Friday, December 29, 2017

Tuesday, December 26, 2017


Here is a simple bee related activity.  It only takes about an hour to mix up a batch of mead; then wait a month while it ferments and then another hour to bottle the end product.  Here is my recipe for making mead.  I make it in small one gallon batches.  Sometimes I make plain honey mead, but other times I flavor it with cranberry.  The end product makes a good gift for family or close friends.  Be careful because this mead has a much higher alcohol content than beer.

Instructions for making Mead

This recipe makes 4 1/3 bottles (fifths).

To stainless steel pot add 3 pints honey to 11 cups water.  Makes ~1 gallon of must.

(for cranberry mead substitute 8 cups of cranberry juice cocktail for 8 cups of the water.  I sometimes also crush fresh or frozen cranberries for their juice (discard the pulp) and remove a commensurate amount of water)

Boil for 10-20 minutes.  Remove foam/scum (pollen proteins) that forms on top.   This also kills any wild yeasts in the honey.

Cover to prevent airborne yeasts from entering.  Allow to cool to room temperature.

When cool add:                 1 ½ cups orange juice

                                                1 teaspoon ACID BLEND

                                                5 drops PEPTIC ENZYME concentrate

                                                1 teaspoon YEAST NUTRIENT

                                                1 Package MONTRACHET or LALVIN D47 YEAST

                                                ¼ teaspoon GRAPE TANNIN


Pour contents into 1 gallon bottle.  Do not completely fill the bottle (see photo below).  The CO2 bubbles will need a space to gather and deflate.  If the bubbles get into the air trap you will have a sticky mess on your hands.

Install air trap (ADD WATER TO TRAP).  Allow to ferment until bubbling stops; approximately 30-45 days. The must is initially cloudy, but clears with yellow tint (reddish tint for cranberry mead).

Siphon into bottles.  Add ¼ SO2 pill to each bottle (kills any remaining live yeast).  Cork.  Age at least 6 months.  Longer aging is better; it gets smoother with time.  

You can sweeten to taste, but unsweetened seems just fine.

 Cranberry and plain mead fermenting in 1 gallon jugs.  Note the space left at the top of the bottle. 
A  personal and colorful label adds a bit of professionalism.

Monday, December 25, 2017


I was a little surprised when reading the latest issue of Bee Culture magazine.  It seems that varroa aren't the "vampires" we have been told for the last 20 years.  They don't actually drink the bees haemolymph (bee blood).  Instead they apparently eat from the bee's fat bodies.  What are the "fat bodies"?  Well, it took me a 1/2 hour of searching the internet before I found enough information to write even this short explanation.  I only found one bee anatomy diagram that showed the "fat bodies" in about 50 diagrams that I looked at.   Unfortunately I was not able to copy and paste it into this article.

The "fat bodies" are a layer of cells that act similar to our liver.  These cells are distributed throughout the abdomen, but mainly on the floor and roof of the abdomen.  Apparently most varroa will attach to the bottom of the bee to get at the "fat bodies".  So besides the small size of the varroa the sneaky little devils hide where we won't see them.  No wonder everyone says they don't see any varroa on their bees.  I certainly am not picking up worker bees to examine their belly.  That's simply invites getting stung.

From a beekeeper's standpoint this new information probably won't make much difference in your day to day activities in the short term.  The main enemy is still the varroa mite and the viruses that they distribute.  This information however may lead to new or different methods of varroa control in the future.

Saturday, December 23, 2017


The winter solstice has come and gone.  The amount of daylight is now getting longer every day.  Three months to the start of spring! 

However, this coming week will be the first real test for bees in central Wisconsin.  Temperatures as low as -10F are predicted right after Christmas and then moderating slightly to about 0 F for over night lows.  These cold temperatures are predicted to last for a week to 10 days.   Well fed and healthy bees should have no trouble surviving these temperatures. 

So the questions are:  1) Did you control the varroa mites last fall and 2) Is there sufficient food in the hive.   There isn’t much you can do about the varroa mites or the viruses they spread at this time, but you can add emergency feed in the form of sugar to the top of the hive.  Adding several dollars of sugar to the hive may prevent the need to buy another $120 package of bees next spring.  Last summer was not the best honey harvest season and many hives are short on winter feed.  People who don’t try to ensure survival of their hives are “beehavers” not beekeepers.   Taking the additional precaution of feeding your hives during winter is your choice.  

Wednesday, December 13, 2017


This is a reminder that there will be a club meeting this Saturday, December 16th, at the library in Green Lake.   Topics will be:  Care of your bees in the winter and discussion whether the club should pursue a tax exempt status.

This past week I was out checking my hives.  In many hives, actually MOST, the bee cluster is now in the upper brood box and partaking of the emergency sugar I had placed there in November.    The fact that the clusters in most hives are already in the top brood chamber confirms that last summer was not the best for storing honey.  The poor honey harvest was another indicator.   It is still a long way to spring.  To avoid starvation, you should be verifying the bees have feed at two week intervals; adding emergency feed as necessary.  Remember that in the winter the bees need about 12 pounds of honey or equivalent per month.   

Bees have almost completely consumed sugar disc

Tuesday, December 5, 2017


Typical honey consumption of a beehive in winter is about 12 pounds per month.  The warmer weather of last November reduced the demand to about 7 pounds per month.  Of course the bees must be able to get to the stored honey.  Extreme cold (less than -10F?) will cause the bees to tightly cluster and stay in one place.  Extreme cold lasting more than 3 days can result in the cluster starving since it will not or can not move to available food stores.

STORING YOUR BEES INSIDE submitted by beekeeper Gerard

Here is an interesting article; unfortunately this is beyond what most of us can do for our bees.

Friday, December 1, 2017


We are now one third of the way through winter (October 1st through March 31st); four months to go.  I went out and checked the status of my hives on December 1st.   They were either humming or silent ( ie. dead).  There is no in between.  As of this check-up 96% were still humming.  The lost hives were probably do to varroa/viruses or being queenless; both had sufficient honey stores. 

The warm weather in November has had the bees out flying on many days during the afternoon.  I have seen conflicting opinions about whether these warmer temperatures are good or bad.  One opinion is that the bees will be consuming less honey to maintain the cluster temperature and that the bees can easily reposition to get to unused stored honey.  The second opinion is that the flight activity results in consumption of additional honey.  I guess this spring the bees will let me know who was right. 

During November I added emergency food to the top of each hive.  My emergency food is a 2 ½ lb. disc of sugar and will be available anytime throughout the winter when the bee cluster gets into the top brood chamber.  I will be checking on the emergency stores once per month throughout the winter.

The “experts” also say that during fall the bees should move to the lower brood chamber (downstairs) and fill the upper brood chamber (upstairs) with food for winter consumption.  While adding the emergency food I recorded the position of the cluster in each hive.  In 50% of the hives the cluster was in the lower brood chamber and in the remaining 50% of hives the cluster, to varying degrees, had moved to the top brood chamber.  Apparently not all my bees have been listening to the “experts” or they may have already consumed the stored food in the lower brood chamber.  Many area beekeepers reported their bees had not produced as much honey as normal during the summer.   Last year I had noticed some clusters in the top brood chamber in late fall but had not recorded the data so I couldn’t determine if the hives with the cluster already in the upper chamber were more likely to succumb later in the winter.  Last year I had good winter survival so I don’t think this is a major issue provided emergency food is always available.  I will be keeping a closer watch on the hives with the cluster already in the top chamber and will replenish the emergency food if necessary. 

After reviewing my field notes it appears the position of the cluster does not appear related to whether the hive had been fed sugar syrup during the fall. 

Two of three overwintering nucs are still humming. 

Winter is also the time to assemble equipment you will be needing for next year.  Bee equipment suppliers frequently have sales of various types throughout the winter.  Personally I am assembling a number of frames so that I can continue refreshment of the frame foundation on a 5 year schedule to minimize pesticide buildup in the brood nest wax.  In addition, I am building a few nucs for queen rearing next spring. 

Rumor has it that both package and queen prices will be increasing next year.  That adds a little motivation to ensure your bees survive through the winter.