Thursday, May 25, 2017


The Bee Infromed Partnership has issued a preliminary report on winter losses for the 2016-2017 time frame.  Overall losses were down.  However, this preliminary data does not offer any guidance for the reason or reasons for the improvement; ie the milder winter, infromed varroa management, etc.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017


This time of year beekeepers are intently pursuing a number of different objectives.  Are my clonies queenright?  Are there swarm cells?  Pursuing swarms in the trees.  Getting honey supers installed.  But most of us forget one of the most important tasks.  Controlling varroa.  Winter survivor hives are raising brood; both worker and drone brood, at a furious rate.  This activity allows varroa to also re-produce.  As a minimum you should start monitoring varroa levels.  Some beekeepers treat varroa in the spring.  If your honey supers are already installed you should only use formic acid or oxalic acid treatments.  If your supers are not yet installed you can use other chemical treatments, but must wait at least 3 weeks prior to installing your honey supers.  Otherwise your honey will get contaminated with these chemicals.

Follow this link for more information.

SWARM SAGA FINALE submitted by beekeeper Gerard

The swarm (Swarm Saga I and II) that was 30 – 40 feet up in a tree decided to take up residence in the bait box (swarm lure) on Monday, 5/22.  I spotted it in the tree on Wednesday evening, 5/17.   That night it endured torrential rain and strong winds, and for the next 4 days it was exposed to rain, wind, overcast sky, and temps not above the mid-50’s.  It appeared to not move a wing.

Monday, after work, I checked and saw bees orientating in front of the bait box and I went back to check the tree.  The swarm was gone.  To verify that they were in the bait box I put my ear against the box to listen.  Yep, lots of bees in there.  I took the dogs for a walk back to the apiary, checking the treetops for any more swarms and didn’t see anything.   So I cut grass since it wasn’t raining at the moment.

I didn’t know which hive had cast the swarm but two hives in particular had been heavily bearding.  (I had put additional supers of foundation on to see if they would change their mind.)  So I got the dogs and went back to see if either of them had discontinued bearding and if my method worked.  No bearding on either hive so I figured it worked for one and that it was the other that had swarmed.   Reasonable, I thought.  As I turned to leave I saw this:

It was 7:15 p.m. and the light was fading.  I hurried the dogs back to the house, grabbed the parts for the second bait box (which is a single deep 8-frame hive), grabbed my jacket and boots, grabbed an empty cardboard box from the burn pile, and my bee brush.  I quickly set up the hive on a couple of concrete blocks I had back there, noticing that the grass in the apiary needed to be cut…..again.

I brushed the swarm down into the box, and they peeled off almost as one.  I took extra care at the center of the swarm, figuring that’s where the queen would be.  They were very docile with not many bees flying around.  I captured around 80% – 85% of the swarm and unceremoniously dumped them into the hive and closed it up.  I watched for awhile and dozens of bees were scenting at the entrance to attract those in the air and those left behind.   Bees that had dropped onto the ground were marching into the hive and I was pretty sure the queen was inside.  All good.

But, I couldn’t leave well enough alone.  On my way out I saw that a softball sized group of bees had regrouped where the swarm had been.  I knew that they would eventually find the hive, but rain was in the forecast (of course) so I thought I’d help them out.  They were not pleased.  As soon as I started brushing them into the box they attacked.  I trust my protective gear, but hadn’t bothered with the bee britches, just blue jeans. 

Moving quickly, I brushed as many bees as I could into the box and took them to the hive.  I opened the hive and was met with angry bees boiling out.   Such a contrast to a few minutes ago.  I hurriedly dumped the bees, closed the hive, and walked quickly out followed by several bees that needed to let me know that I needn’t come back.  Gratefully I sustained only three venom injections.  Two through my blue jeans and one through a goatskin glove.  I feel healthier already.

I went back this morning to see how it all looked.  There was a low hum in the hive, a cluster of bees in the box, and a golf ball sized cluster of bees on the tree.   All’s well.

Any future swarms from this apiary (this season) will be gifts to the world.  I’ve taken enough…..for now.  I still have bait boxes in other locations and will continue to monitor and refresh those, but I want the genetics from this apiary to spread.  The virgin queens need good mates.


Follow this link about neonictinoids and carn and soybeans.

Saturday, May 20, 2017


Hopefully the pictures will show up this time!

Wednesday, May 17, was a glorious day.  I could see the sun, and the flags across the road moving moderately in the breeze, through my office window.  My phone showed the temperature near 70.  A good day to split colonies if I hadn't had to work a day job to support my habit.

I took the dogs for a walk back to the apiary when I got home from work, checking the flora and looking for swarms.  The honeysuckle was in blossom and the bees were working it.  When I say honeysuckle, I mean A LOT of honeysuckle.   There’s miles of patches in this area that are 100 yards long and 10 yards wide.  It’s a major source of early honey for me.

There’s 3 honey bees easily seen in this photo, and they were that thick everywhere.

As we neared the apiary I spotted an extraordinarily dark thickness on an upper branch of a young Box Elder tree which is a swarm wrapped around a vertical branch.

The swarm is 30 – 40 feet above the ground.  Clustered vertically and wrapped around a branch, I couldn’t think of any way to capture them except for a chainsaw, or a bait box.  I had two bait boxes in the shop and wished I had had one out. 

I put the dogs in the house and set up the bait boxes (plural, another mistake).  The bees found both within seconds and soon there were dozens of scouts checking both out.  I knew from having read Tom Seeley’s Honeybee Democracy that the scouts were returning to the swarm and dancing their opinions for the others to go and check them out.  The number of scouts around the bait boxes grew, but remained equal, with dozens coming and going at each.  I realized they probably wouldn’t reach a consensus because the boxes were equal in volume (8 frame deeps), and nearly equal inside with an old brood comb and frames.  (#1 had several empty frames and #2 had several frames with foundation.)

I stood in the tall grass with the wood ticks for 2 ½ hours waiting to record the cluster bursting forth and flying en masse to the bait box of their choice.  Then it got dark.  Having realized my mistake, I removed bait box #2 to tip the votes to bait box #1.  Then it stormed.  Drenching rains and winds strong enough to topple an ancient box elder on my front lawn (missed the house by 10 feet).   Thursday morning the swarm was intact in the tree.

I checked the bait box locations when I took the dogs for a walk at 6:15 a.m. and there were about a dozen scouts at each location.  20 minutes later they had abandoned the location where bait box #2 had been and the number increased at bait box #1.  The daytime temperature didn’t get above the mid-50’s and the cluster didn’t stir.  Friday morning the swarm was still in the tree and there were a couple of scouts checking bait box #1.  I was getting concerned because I didn’t know how long the honey in the swarm bees' honey stomachs would last.  Still don’t.

I shared with Jack and Fred the status of the swarm, and Jack suggested adding a frame of honey to the bait box to sweeten the pot.  I took a frame loaded with honey over to the bait box when I got home from work (about 4 p.m.) and immediately a scout landed on it.  I tried to be careful so I could get the bee in the bait box too, but the motion was enough to cause the bee to fly off.

I scratched the cappings to get the honey flowing down the comb and closed the bait box.  In the short time it took to secure everything 3 scouts showed up and went in.  I think they started shuttling honey to the swarm.

It’s now Saturday morning.  The swarm is in the tree, the bait box has little activity (they know where it is), and I think they’re waiting for warm weather to finally take off for their new home, whether it be the bait box or not.  I’m hoping the bait box wins the election and that the weather forecasters are wrong.

UPDATE: On day 5 after several storms the swarm came out of the tree and occupied Gerard's bait hive.  Then the next day Gerard had the good fortune of capturing a 2nd swarm.  

Friday, May 19, 2017

BAIT HIVES-HOW WE DOING SO FAR submitted by Grandpa Jack

Hopefully everyone is doing better than I have so far.  Interesting year with the cold weather and wind almost every day. 

A week ago the bait hives had some scout bees looking the situation over and as the day went on, the number of scout bees increased.  Late in the afternoon, they were still looking the bait hive over and at one point, I actually wondered if a swarm had moved in.

Evening came and of course the scouts went back to their swarm and I was quite confident that the next day, I would have success to report to the group.  Morning arrived, no scouts, noon arrived, no scouts and as the afternoon became evening, I knew that I would not be able to report success.  So, what happened ?

The scout bees had actually found a home that they were interested in. My bait box!  Did they get overruled by the greater majority of scouts coming back to the swarm ?  That is definitely a possibility.  But with as much interest that they showed (more that 100 bees going in and out and all around) I think what probably happened to my new catch, was the beekeeper found them first.  We all hope that if our bees swarm that we have first chance at them.  That's the game we play and agree to.  If they leave the apiary, they are fair game.

So disappointed and rejected I will once again reset, re-bait and continue to hold out hope that the weather improves, only my neighbors bees will swarm, and that he/she is not as observant next time.

In the baiting game, one man's loss is another man's gain.  Happy hunting !


With the going number of bears in our area here is a little information on what motivates bears to raid bee hives.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

BEE PACKAGE POPULATION submitted by beekeeper Jack

Bee population after package installation

After you install your package of bees and they start to set up their colony, the population starts to decline.  This is a normal process.  If your wondering under normal conditions what that population looks like, the following can help guide you.

After installation:

Day 23-24  Population is at its lowest
Day 30       Population is back to its original amount (10,000 bees in a 3# package)
Day 40       Twice the original size
Day 42       All the original bees are now gone, except the queen
Day 50       The hive population is now three times the original size
Day 59       The population is now stabilizing and has reached its maximum size for the season


Use this link to see an excellent article about hive activity in May.  This author is in the northwest Wisconsin area.

Monday, May 15, 2017



For beekeepers who have just put in a package of bees there are a number of things to look for.  When the package is received a three pound package has roughly 10,000 bees and a mate queen.  While the new hive is getting going an observant beekeeper will note that the bee population is slowly declining.  This occurs because of the relatively short life span of summer bees; something on the order of six weeks.  To counter this the new queen and hive will start raising replacement bees.  It takes twenty-one days from the laying of the egg to the emergence of the new worker bee.  For this entire period the hive population is slowly declining as the bees reach the end of their useful life.  After about one month the amount of new emerging bees will begin to outpace the loss of the old package bees and the hive population will begin to increase. 

If the new package is put on undrawn foundation the new hive must expend a great deal of food and energy to drawn out the foundation and make cells for the raising of brood.  It is said that it takes 6 pounds of honey to make one pound of wax.  The sugar water fed the new hive is not as nutritious as honey so it takes more sugar water than honey to provide the bees with resources to make the new wax.  Keep feeding the new hive sugar water until they have drawn out about 80% of the comb in both brood boxes.

The key to a new hive’s success is the queen.  Remember to do an inspection of the hive every two weeks to ensure the queen is laying eggs.  You don’t need to see the queen, but must see eggs and developing brood at every inspection.  Once you see the eggs and developing brood you can stop the inspection.  This will lessen the chance of inadvertently injuring the queen.  At the two week point there should be multiple frames of developing and capped brood. 


Overwintered hives should be booming right now. They should have 8 to 12 frames of brood in various stage of development. If they are lagging behind a frame or two of capped brood can be added from another hive after brushing off the attached bees.

 Make sure you have installed honey supers.  The hive needs this space for the expanding population and as a place to store the incoming nectar.  If insufficient storage space is available the bees will store the nectar in the brood chamber.  This will slow population expansion and could also trigger the urge to swarm.  The honey flow has started.  I have one hive that has already filled a medium super.  I don’t where they are finding the nectar, but there it is!

Every two weeks a good beekeeper is verifying his hive is queenright. 

Now is also the time to do a split if you are interested in increasing your number of colonies.  You can tailor your split to suit your objective.  For example if you do a four way split you will end up with four new hives, but you will also be sacrificing the potential of harvesting any honey this year.  A two way split (50/50) would be similar to starting two new packages and has the potential of generating surplus honey.  Another option of a two way split is a 75/25 split.  One hive is almost full strength while the second hive would be similar in strength to a new package
The other option when doing a split is whether or not to provide a new queen.  Remember your overwintered hive has shown it was winter hardy.  Maybe you want to keep those genetics.  In that case let the hive raise their own queen.  It takes roughly one month before the replacement queen will begin raising laying.  The success rate of this is roughly 70-80%.  This one month brood break is also considered a varroa mite control strategy.  If you don’t want your hive to be queenless for that long; plan ahead and order queens.   

Sunday, May 14, 2017

SWARM SEASON IS HERE by beekeeper Fred

Swarm season is officially here.  Caught my first swarm today (14 May 2017) in my apiary at 12:15PM.  Sorry no pictures.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

WALK AWAY SPLIT--photos by beekeeper Al

Al is a second year beekeeper.  He was thrilled his single hive came through the winter in a strong fashion.  (Al treated his hive with MAQS and requeened with an Ankle Biter queen last fall)  Even back in March he was concerned that the hive was going to swarm at any moment. After a little coaching Al held out doing the split until last Tuesday, May 2nd, although the anticipation was killing him.  To help lessen the hive conjestion Al had added another deep giving the queen more room to lay.  When he did the split he did not see any swarm cells.

So now a little more than a week has passed and Al has inspected both the original (#1) and new (#2) hives.  He found that the bees had done their job and started 7 queen cells on several frames in the new hive.  Some are capped and some still developing.

He now gets to wait for about 8 more days for the queens to emerge from the capped cells and then another 2 weeks will pass prior to the surviving new queen starts laying.  Way to go Al!!


The Nature's Nectar blog author has written a good description on the development of new packages.  When reading this make sure that you adjust the dates depending on when you actually installed your package.  Note that he recommends continued feeding of a new packages for roughly two months time when the package will have finally built up its own foraging force.  If your bees are drawing out new foundation contiued feeding is especially important.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017


Early May Apiary checks
It’s now early May and it has been warm enough to begin working with the bees.  My first action was a quick inspection to assess each hive’s strength.  Those already fully occupying both brood boxes are obviously strong.  However, a few were just occupying the upper brood chamber.  I reversed the brood chambers on those weaker hives; top chamber to the bottom and bottom to top.  Reversing the brood boxes is thought to stimulate the queen to lay more and also retard the urge to swarm.   On one weak hive I added a frame of capped brood from a stronger hive and since then this hive is getting stronger.
Last week I went through all hives to quickly verify they were all queenright (plentiful eggs and brood in various stages of development).   I did not specifically verify the queen was present; the eggs tell me she was present no more than 4 days previous to my inspection.   Luckily all were queenright.   If I did see the queen I marked her with a white dot (white signifies 2016; yellow significes 2017).  This will help me assess if my hives are superceding their queens.

In late April I took several frames of brood and honey from all of the strong hives in order to set up nucs for the queens I have been trying to raise.  My ulterior motive was to also slightly weaken the strong hives and lessen their desire to swarm, but still leave them strong enough to pull in a good honey crop. 

During my hive inspections I saw swarm cells in 2 of the hives.   I removed the frames with the swarm cells and started another nuc or hive.   So be forewarned.  Swarm time is soon to be upon us.  My guess is that on the first sunny day with high 70’s temperatures we will be seeing swarms. 
In late April I had put honey supers on the stronger hives.  My early May inspections showed only a few of the very strongest hives had placed honey in the supers.  The best had about 1 ½ frames of honey already gathered.
I did get a few packages this year.  They did not arrive until May 2nd.  All have settled in, released the queen and are raising brood.  I will continue to offer them feed until the honey flow has definitely started.   I marked all queens with a yellow dot (2017).

My next task for this month will be to assess varroa mite levels.  I plan on doing a powdered sugar shake on about one in five hives.   Based on the results I will treat all hives or none.   I will also do another inspection of all hives before the end of the month to again verify all hives are queenright. 



Topics for this Saturday's club meeting are tentatively to be swarm prevention, swarm catching, package inspection and whatever other topics club members would like to discuss.

The meeting will be at the Ripon Public Library at 9:30AM.

Friday, May 5, 2017

SICK BEES submitted by beekeeper Gerard

Follow this link for an article about sick bees.


Here is a link to an intersting podcast on how smart bees are.  It was a broadcast on Science Friday hosted by Ira Flado.

INCREASE submitted by beekeeper Grandpa Jack

Wanting to increase his apiary size Grandpa Jack has taken a different path.  He likes the idea of propogating local survivor bees and dislikes buying packages.  Here is what he did.

He took one of his strongest winter survivor hives which would probably swarm this spring anyway.  Back on April 22nd he removed the queen with several frames of bees and brood and placed them in a nuc.  Essentially this nuc was a free package of bees.  He still had a strong hive which was now queenless.

On May 3rd he inspected the queenless hive.  In the ensuing 1 1/2 weeks the hive had raised and capped 4 queen cells.  Grandpa Jack then removed enough bees and two queen cells and started another nuc.  He will keep a watch on the hive and 2nd nuc to verify the queen cells successfully emerge and mate.  This should be complete in 3 more weeks.   His fall back plan is to requeen these hives with locally raised queens if necessary.

So now he has the original strong hive plus 2 nucs without investing any money for packages plus he has the satisfaction of propagating local survivor bee genetics.  Good for his wallet and good for the bees.

ECWBA beekeeper Al is also following this program.  He started the process on May 2nd when he did a queenless split of his only hive.

This process is commonly called a "walk away" split.  All that it takes is confidence that your bees will do what is natural and raise a new queen plus a backup plan if they don't.

Thursday, May 4, 2017


Go to this link for additional warning on swarming.


There have been several reports from beekeepers in the area ( beekeepers Grandpa Jack and Fred) that some of their strong overwintered hives are raising queens (swarm cells) in preparation for swarming.  A slight honey flow has begun, so the only other factor needed to put these hives into a full-on swarm mode is some sunny warm weather.  NOTE TO NEW BEEKEEPERS: Hives that have a new package will almost never swarm in their first summer.  
Hives that have successfully survived the winter have been rapidly growing in April to be ready for the upcoming honey flow.  The availability of pollen and the warm weather has the hive raising both workers and drones.  At the first hints of the honey flow the hive may also initiate the raising of queens.  Via regular hive inspections the beekeeper can detect the queen cells and then be aware hives are getting ready to swarm. 

Swarming is a natural reproductive trait of the honey bee.  It serves several purposes.  First, it allows the super organism of the hive to reproduce.  Half of the hive’s bees leave with the old queen.  The remaining half raises a new queen and hence the hive reproduces itself.  Two hives instead of one.
After swarming about 70% of the original hives successfully survive.  In the other 30% a replacement queen either does not get raised or does not successfully mate, return to the hive and begin laying.   So if you know one of your hives has swarmed you need to check that hive after 2 weeks and verify that it has a laying queen.  If the hive does not successfully replace the queen there is a narrow window of about 4 weeks after swarming to install a replacement queen.   If a replacement is not installed prior to the end of those 4 weeks some workers (sterile females) will begin laying as the queen and brood pheromones dissipate.  Being sterile the “laying workers” only lay drone eggs.  The laying workers also become very defensive against a later introduction of a new queen and will either kill her or drive her from the hive.   A hive with laying workers is thus condemned to slowly dwindle away and die.  Surprisingly, queenless hives can create a bumper honey crop since no resources are spent raising brood.

The swarm has left with the old queen.  After establishing a hive at a new location the swarm usually supercedes (replaces) the old queen.  Some beekeepers encourage replacement of the captured swarm queens after the hive gets organized and well established.  I would recommend using a locally raised queen as the replacement.  Letting the swarm requeen itself is probably better than using a purchased “factory” (non-local) queen.  After all the swarm is from a hive that has survived a Wisconsin winter.  

All beekeepers love to catch swarms.  It’s like a FREE package of bees.  But are you ready?

Swarming usually occurs on a warm sunny day from about 10AM to noon when there is a good honey flow occurring.  In my area this is usually from early May through late June.   The swarm, after exiting, usually alights within a 100 feet of the original hive.  They can be on the ground, a bush, tree, fence post, building eave, etc.  From ground level to 50 feet up.  They will stay there until scout bees find a new home for the swarm.  This can take a few hours or even days. 

1)      So if you want to catch swarms from your own apiary it is a good plan to do a daily visit about noon to scan nearby trees and structures for a clinging swarm. Sometimes the loud hum of the swarm alerts you to their presence. 

2)      Prior to leaving the hive the bees in the swarm fill their stomachs with honey; similar to what they do when you smoke your hive.  Therefore the swarm bees are usually gentle.  I’ve caught about 15 swarms.  All were gentle except one which strung me multiple times through my suit.

3)      Next, you need a vacant hive ready to accept the swarm. That is, after you catch it.  You can initially get by with only a spare brood box (deep) plus frames, bottom board and outer cover.  You can call on a nearby beekeeper for the loan of their equipment if they are both willing and at home to get your call. The old Boy Scout motto of “Be Prepared” is probably better than depending on a neighbor.  Note: the swarm is more likely to accept a new home if a few of the frames have drawn foundation.  This empty hive can also be used as the swarm catching box. Usually one deep brood box has sufficient volume to hold most swarms.

4)      If you must transport the hive after catching the swarm you will need a screen to cover the hive entrance to keep the bees inside. 

5)      If the swarm is on the ground you can usually just place the brood box right next to the swarm and the bees will usually walk in the entrance.  If you see the queen it’s a good plan to capture and cage her.  Place the cage in the brood box and the workers will follow right in over the period of about an hour.

6)      If the swarm is in a bush or low tree branch simply place the box below the swarm.  Sometimes it helps to trim away branches to gain better access to the swarm.  Make sure you have permission to do this.  Tree clippers and a small hand saw are usually in a swarm catcher’s toolbox.  Usually a hard shake of the branch will cause the swarm to cascade down into the box.  If the queen went in the box, the job is done.  If not, the bees will return to her location.  Try again.

7)      In heights from 6 to 15 feet a bucket on a pole can be used to catch the swarm.

8)      Higher than that involves use of ladders or chain saws and increases the risk to the beekeeper.  In those cases make sure you have a helper.  Since a brood box is heavy it is better to have a light weight catching device; cardboard box, buckets ,etc to shake the swarm into.  Then quickly pour the swarm from the bucket or box into the brood box.

9)      If you feel you have the queen put the inner and outer covers on the hive.  Let it sit there for about a day before moving it.  Adding a sugar water feeder is also a good idea. 

10)   If you have vacant hives in your apiary you can open the entrance.  Once in a great while you get lucky and a swarm will decide to hive themselves and save you the work.  It’s happened to me once in eight years; so your chances aren’t very high.

11)   If you can’t visit your apiary daily to look for swarms it would be a good idea to place a swarm trap or bait hive at least 100 yards away from your apiary.  The trap or hive should be about 6 to 10 feet above ground level.  Data shows a swarm from your apiary will almost never stay in the apiary. 

12)   Getting a swarm from elsewhere is a benefit.  It is a good idea to call your local and county police and get your name placed on their list of someone willing to respond to “bee” problems.  Be aware that you will probably also get calls about paper wasp nests and bald faced hornet nests.  Unfortunately, that goes with the territory.  Be prepared with an aerosol can of wasp killer.  

Wednesday, May 3, 2017


Here is an article about University of Tennessee research that showed agriculture was good for honey bee productivity.  Trying to give a balanced discussion on bee health the article also briefly discusses neonictinoids.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017