Sunday, December 30, 2018

AUSTRALIAN BEE NEST submitted by beekeeper Gerard

Follow link to a photograph of the Australian honey bee nest.  This construction might make it a little difficult to extract honey.

Thursday, December 27, 2018


During the December ECWBA club meeting we reviewed the mite treatment programs of three local beekeepers using Randy Oliver’s varroa model.  Now at the end of December, here are current survival statistics for those three beekeepers.  Gerard’s and club hives: 100%; Jon’s hives: 95.5%; Fred’s hives: 97.3%.  All three beekeepers had practiced rather aggressive treatment programs following high losses in the previous winter.  Each beekeeper used different miticides; Gerard used Formic acid and Apiguard, Jon used Oxalic acid vapor only, and Fred used a mix of formic and oxalic acid.  How are your hives doing?  Of course, crunch time usually occurs in mid to late January when temperatures hit their lowest for the winter.  For now, there is nothing to do but wait for spring.  We will continue getting updates on their statistics and report them here. 

We are now over the first winter obstacle. Daylight is growing in length now that we have passed the winter equinox.  For some bee types the lengthening of the day is the que for the queen to begin laying again; albeit very slowly.   This also marks the halfway point of our six month long winter period. 

During December we experienced several days of low 40’s F.  The bees were using these warm days to take voiding flights.  They also use these warmer days to reposition the cluster closer to the remaining honey.   

During winter a hive will consume one to two pounds of honey per week.  I have provided emergency sugar to top of my hives as a matter of standard practice.   There has been great variation between hives in consumption of this emergency sugar.   Some hives haven’t touched the sugar yet, while others have consumed the entire 2 and ½ pound disc in only two weeks.  Therefore, all hives get checked every two weeks and replenished as needed.  The reason for the large variation isn’t clear to me, but there seems to be a slight correlation between cluster size and sugar consumption.   I will be using the checks as an opportunity to add pollen or pollen substitute patties next to the sugar discs.  This protein will help with feeding the new brood.   

My experiment with overwintering double deep nucs continues.  Twelve of twelve nucs still have that reassuring hum emanating from within the hives.  I sure hope this experiment is successful after seeing some of the prices being quoted for three (3) pound packages to be delivered next spring.  Prices are ranging from $130 to $180.  Yikes!  High prices like this will certainly discourage many hobbyist beekeepers.  But it might also finally convince new beekeepers that a good mite control program is in both their and the bees best interests. 

Thursday, December 20, 2018



Greetings Wisconsin Beekeepers,

I apologize about the late notice and for intruding during the
Holidays, but I’m not sure how else to get the word out…

The Center for Honeybee Research is a non-profit 501 C (3)
organization that sponsors an annual international honey-tasting
contest. Cash awards are generated by entry fees and sales of the

The purpose of the Contest is to showcase flavorful raw honeys from
every region. Scoring is based upon taste/flavor by panels of judges
who are not allowed to see or discuss the honey they are sampling.
Please view our short video at to get a
feel for our event.

The reason I’m reaching out is beekeepers in Wisconsin don’t seem to
know about this and I suspect we are missing out on some pretty tasty
honey. Our deadline has been extended to Dec. 31, 2018 and although
that doesn’t give you a lot of time I’d like to point out 1) We do it
every year  2) the honey doesn’t have to be from this year  and 3) you
can enter as many as you like.

Local honey is a valuable resource which rarely finds its way beyond
regional markets and we’d like to “discover” the treasures Wisconsin’s
micro-climates and make them known on an international stage.

Thank you for your consideration and may you enjoy a Happy Holidays!


Carl Chesick
Director, Center for Honeybee Research
Asheville, NC, USA

8th Annual International Black Jar Honey Contest

Grand Prize $3,000    (10) Category Winners $150 each

Rules, FAQs, Register online

Wednesday, December 19, 2018


Here is a short list of companies supplying bee packages in 2019 in ECWBA area.  This list is in no way a complete listing and many suppliers have not yet published their 2019 prices.   The suppliers are listed in alphabetical order.   This listing will be updated in about February when all 2019 prices should be available.  Please note the ECWBA does not endorse any product or supplier. 


                3 lb. package-$130

                Phone: 920-328-4456



                2019 prices not yet posted

                Phone: 877-232-3268


                2019 prices not yet posted


                2019 prices not yet posted

                Phone: 715-369-0383


                Phone: 920-566-2855


                2019 prices not yet posted

                Phone: 319-321-2494



                2019 prices not yet posted

                Order via their website

Sunday, December 16, 2018


One down and ten to go.  Here is an article about a new vaccine to combat American Foulbrood.

Saturday, December 15, 2018


At the meeting we took everyone through Randy Oliver's Varroa Model.  If you want to play with it yourself, here are a few pointers.  First, here is a link to the model:

1) You will need Microsoft Excel on your computer to run this model.

2) Click on the blue title "Randy's Varroa Model 25 Aug Version", which appears part way down the page.  This will download the program into your computer.

Right below the blue title are 4 tutorials you can watch.  I suggest watching the first two as a minimum.

3) You will need to click on the button "Enable Editing" that is at the bottom of the header in the middle of the page.  Now you change the various inputs.

4) You will need to change the hive type from R (California hive) to D (default/Midwest hive).  For beginners I would leave all other inputs alone.  Just play with the first column which is for treatment effective values.  Note: To delete a value already in a cell use the delete key.  Using the "space bar" to clear the cell causes the computer program to say "Error, error, I can not compute!!!!!"  Just kidding but using the "space bar" does corrupt the program and cell must again be cleared using the delete key.

Using this model you can develop a mite treatment program using your preferred treatment methods. Remember multiple treatments are likely to be necessary.  The effectiveness of the various mite treatments are to the right of the graph and table.   Although we did not discuss these at the meeting, drone trapping and splitting are also options for reducing mites.

Have fun!

Monday, December 10, 2018


OK, OK!  I know I am overdoing the mite control thing.  But the main reason beekeepers drop out is losing their hives to varroa mites and viruses during the winter.  Here is another short article to increase your knowledge.

To me there were two important messages.  One, the sugar shake method of measuring mite infestation is NOT as good as the alcohol wash method.  Also, the article says that August is the time to apply mite controls.  But oddly it did not provide a recommendation about acceptable mite levels.

We have all heard different things on what thresholds are good and bad when measuring mite levels in August.  We have also seen the limit being lowered over the last ten years.  At this Saturday's club meeting we will try to increase everyone's understanding about various limits and the potential for a hive crash by presenting Randy Oliver's Varroa Model.   See you there.

Sunday, December 9, 2018


It now mid-December.  The days will still be getting shorter until the winter solstice which occurs on December 21st.   Temperatures to date have not been cold enough to really test the bees.  If you completed your mite treatments on time last fall there shouldn’t be any issues with hive survival.  But remember that even in pre-varroa days an 85% winter survival rate was typical.  Even with treatments survival is never guaranteed.   Unfortunately for me, I have already had my first winter casualty; a topbar hive that went silent last weekend.  So far, I haven’t had time or inclination to investigate.  But over the years my topbar hives have had lower winter survival.  I think a major contributor to this is the difficulty in working (inspections, feeding, treating, etc.) with topbar hives.  

Last summer in our area the honey harvest was down.  The general consensus was that it was down by two thirds.   Most beekeepers pointed to a cooler and wetter spring and summer.  This slowed population buildup and reduced foraging opportunities.  This is being brought up in December because your hives may be light on winter stores.  A quick inspection of your hives and possible adding of emergency feed is recommended.   See the December 2nd post for one possible winter feeding method.  Other methods have been and will be discussed at our regular monthly club meetings. 

On the bright side, some experts say that after the solstice the queen will again begin laying and brood production.    So we see the yearly cycle starting again. 

The next EWBCA club meeting will be at 9:30 AM on Saturday, December 15th in the basement of the Caestecker Public Library in Green Lake.    Old members and any potential new members are always welcome to attend. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2018


Winter is the time to sit back, relax and learn.  Click on the link below to a lengthy 20 page discussion about swarming, preventing swarming and splits by author Meghan Milbrath.  This and other articles can also be found by going to her website:

Sunday, December 2, 2018

WINTER RAMBLINGS by beekeeper Fred

At the end of November, I went through my apiary and added an emergency feed sugar disc to each hive.  While doing so I listened to each hive and all are alive!  But we all know that mid-January is the real tipping point, but so far, so good.   Here are a few photos on how I set up my winter emergency feeders.  This method isn’t better than others; just the way I do it.  I figure it makes financial sense to provide the bees a few dollars of sugar rather than having to buy a new $120 package if they were to starve.  

 Today's fresh snow.  

Outer cover removed to show 3 inch wide spacer.  Spacer/hive joint gets sealed with duck tape since the bees can no longer propolize the crack.
Inner cover removed.  Cloth added to minimize internal air movement and prevent melting frost on underside of inner cover from dripping on the bees. 
Cloth peeled back to show 2 1/2 pound sugar disc. 
A few bees are just below the disc, but main cluster is down deeper in the hive.  A new disc or pollen patty can be added as required. 

In the month of December there isn’t much outdoor bee work.  I will confine mine to listening to each hive and clearing the entrances of snow.  In addition, I will check every other week on the status of the emergency food supply.  Ideally the bees will not need it. 

However, the weather in December does promote indoor work.  You  can think about your 2019 apiary plans, read bee magazines and bee equipment catalogs.  Its also a good time to assemble and paint new or replacement equipment.  That way its ready when the need arises in the spring. 

Of course, there is the December ECWBA club meeting on December 15th.  I’m not sure what President Gerard will be talking about, but I will be giving a short presentation on use of Randy Oliver’s (Scientific Beekeeping) varroa model.  Unfortunately, these days a good knowledge about varroa dynamics inside the hive are necessary in order to be a successful beekeeper.  I will plug into the varroa model the varroa control methods used by 3 local beekeepers and show the expected outcome as pertains to a varroa crash in the fall or winter.  Time permitting, I can input your varroa control plan to see how things may turn out for you. 

It also time to begin thinking about packages for 2019.  Talk to other beekeepers near you and consider buying packages in bulk.  Bulk buys usually get a discount.  Also, only one person needs to make the trip for pickup thus saving time and gas money for the others in the group. 

Another consideration is when you want your packages to arrive.  Usually there are three options; early April, late April and early May.  Each time period has its advantages and disadvantages.  Early April comes with a high chance of cold weather and snow.  But get you package hived and fed and it will build its population up for the start of the nectar flow.  Mid-April provides warmer weather, but with a later buildup of the hive population and some lost honey.  Early May just about eliminates chances of snow and cold, but the hive populations will not be ready for the nectar flow and the chances of getting surplus honey are greatly reduced.   Every beekeeper gets to make his choice.  Note, if you are making a group buy they usually must all be delivered at the same time. 

Monday, November 19, 2018

APIARY REPORT by beekeeper Fred

Today I was adding winter supers (emergency sugar feeders) to several of my hives.  This entails removing the outer and inner covers.  Adding a 3 inch spacer and a 2 1/2 pound sugar disc.  Then replacing the inner and outer covers.  The joint between the upper box and the 3 inch spacer was sealed with duck tape.

The bees in all of the hives were in cluster.  Some were already at the top of the upper brood chamber which was surprising, so I am sure they will be making use of the sugar disc.  The fact that the clusters were already in the upper brood chamber may be a sign that the hives did not store enough honey during the summer.

One hive had a few weak bees on top of the inner cover.  This is may an indicator of a marcens serratia scaria bacterial infection.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018


Our club membership rises and falls as new members tire of the constant battle against varroa mites and the cost of replacing their bees.  The following article sums it up very well.

Friday, November 2, 2018


Due to falling temperatures varroa treatments using oxalic acid are about the only option still available to ECWBA beekeepers.  The temperature forecast for next week is high's in the 30's and lows in the 20's at night.  These temperatures are too low for use of oxalic acid.

However this Saturday, Sunday and Monday temperatures will still be in the 40's.  This is a last chance of application of oxalic acid.  Sunday has rain predicted so your best bet is to treat on Saturday.   This would be a good time to also reposition your entrance reducer to the smallest setting; one inch (1").  If you plan to use mouse guards this would be a good time to also install them.

Saturday, October 27, 2018


At the conclusion of October's club meeting we encountered some late fall snow showers.  That's a reminder to us all that winter is on its way.   Despite the snow squall club members loaded 2 1/2 barrels of free sugar into containers; that's about 1000 pounds!  We will try to arrange for more sugar next spring.    

I read with interest Randy Oliver’s article in the November issue of American Bee Journal.  He was providing an update on an oxalic acid/glycerin mixture being applied with blue shop towels.  This method of applying oxalic acid appears to still be a work in progress and EPA approval of this method does not appear imminent.  

However, he did share data from a two (2) hive test that showed that the repeated application of oxalic acid vapor at two (2) week intervals successfully controlled mite levels and did not harm the hive in any way after 9 applications.  Remember this was limited test with only two hives.  Also, remember that oxalic acid vapor is not approved for use when honey supers are in place.

I would also like to report that beekeeper Jon’s hives are doing very well.  Last year at this time he had lost ALL his hives.  (See 1the 5 November 2017 blog article BIG MYSTERY).  We had attributed that total loss due to trying to control mites via an oxalic acid/alcohol fogging method seen on the internet.  This summer beekeeper Jon changed to oxalic acid vapor as his control method and has got past the crisis period with mostly strong hives.   He has also seen low mite counts when periodically checking mite levels with the alcohol wash method.  Starting with 12 packages in May and doing early June splits he was able to end up with 22 hives going into winter.   

In mid-October I applied an oxalic acid vapor treatment to all my hives and winter nucs.   This will be repeated the first week of November, weather permitting, and is my last planned treatment prior to the onset of winter.  Remember that varroa mites are the main transmitters of viruses and the serratia marcescens sacarria bacteria, which is endemic in Wisconsin. 

I also applied two (2) inch foam insulation around my winter nucs.  I know what you are thinking; “he has repeatedly stated that winter wrapping is of doubtful value”.   That’s still my position for full size hives, but for nucs, which start the winter with a much smaller cluster, I bent my rule to give the nucs a little help.  This is my second attempt to overwinter nucs.  My first attempt last winter was not successful.  Last year's three (3) nucs succumbed in early January.  

Four nucs gathered together for shared warmth and covered with 2" insulation

Presently all my hives and nucs are alive.  The bees occasionally make an appearance outside the hives in the afternoon when temperatures exceed 50F.  But for the most part they will be staying inside the hive for the next five months. 

My next task for early November is to reposition the entrance reducers to the smallest entrance size (1 inch) and add mouse guards.   

In late November I will be adding a 3 inch spacer beneath the inner cover to allow future addition of  2 ½ pound sugar discs as emergency food which some hives may utilize in late winter.   

Sunday, October 14, 2018


Remember that there will be a club meeting at 9:30 AM this Saturday, October 20th, at the Caestecker Library in Green Lake.

Now an unadvertised opportunity for club members only.

We have been able to get some more free sugar.  The shipping containers holding the sugar were punctured during handling and the sugar is considered “NOT FIT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION”.   It may have a little dirt from the floor mixed in and normally it goes to the landfill.   We are able to get it for feeding to our bees.   Many members have been using the sugar from this source for several years.  Personally I have never seen any contamination in the sugar.  

Yes, its late in the season for feeding your bees but I bet you all have some empty containers that you can store the sugar in for use next spring or for making sugar discs for mid-winter emergency feeding.  

It will be distributed at the club meeting this Saturday, October 20th, AND ONLY THIS SATURDAY.  It is being done this way so all club members have the same opportunity and so I won’t be hassled with a bunch of individual requests.   The initial limit is 10 gallons of sugar (roughly 50 lbs) per member.  Once everyone has had a chance for the initial 10 gallons the remainder will be available with NO limit.  Bring as many containers as you want.   The tote of sugar weighs roughly 1500 lbs, so all club members with containers should be able to get at least two 5 gallon pails full.  The remainder will be distributed equitably.   A donation to the club treasury of a few dollars is recommended or you can donate one pound of honey with your label (honey is preferred).  Only one donation is requested regardless of the amount of sugar you receive.  Remember 50 lbs of sugar costs $18-$25.  The honey will be given to the source of the sugar as a holiday gift for his effort on behalf of the bees.     

Remember this sugar is NOT for human consumption; its for the bees. 

Thursday, October 11, 2018


Follow this link to an excellent writeup on treating your bees one last time using oxalic dribble or oxalic vapor.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Friday, October 5, 2018


Its now early October and we have seen nighttime temperatures down into the 30’s.   Only a few asters remain blooming. 

For once I followed my own advice and on October 2nd went out and graded the hive strength of my hives.  A week prior I had been removing the feeders from my hives and felt that most hives would be strong.  I started the grading at about 11AM.  The air temperature had increased to a cool 48 degrees F.  The first hive I looked at only had 5 frames of bees when I raised the inner cover.  The bees were not roaming about under the inner cover.  This shocked me a little since this hive had produced 3 supers of honey and had had a strong population throughout the summer.  Then it dawned on me that the bees had drawn up into a cluster to maintain warmth around the brood nest area. 

On my first go through of the hives there were roughly 29 strong, 6 medium and one weak hive.  All hives I had graded as medium were in cluster. 

About 1 1/2 hours later, I returned to one of the medium hives because I had noted too many uncapped honey cells in the upper brood box.  The temperature had increased above 50 degrees.   When I lifted the inner cover to install the feeder the bees had broken cluster and now filled the entire hive.   I rechecked the medium hives and they had all broken cluster and were occupying the entire hive. 

Based on these secondary findings 35 hives were graded as strong with addition of one weak hive.  This is the best conditions my hives have been prior to winter.  I attribute this to the feeding I  did after removing the honey supers and feeding of all start-up hives. 

Now to the weak hive.  This hive had been troublesome ALL spring and summer.   It had barely survived the previous winter.  I should have taken two actions then and there:  1) I should have replaced the queen.  2) I should have added brood from other hives several times.  Being a softy, I wanted to give the queen that had overwintered the benefit of doubt and give her a chance to rebuild the hive.  It wasn’t until mid-August that I finally replaced her.  However, I still didn’t add any brood.  By August and September, I was worried about weakening strong hives by robbing brood to aid this weak hive.  In hindsight I should have known a strong hive could spare a frame of brood without a problem.   The hive even told me it was in trouble when it did not quickly consume sugar syrup I offered in late August.

What are the lessons learned from this fiasco?  First, I should have replaced the queen in all hives not showing a continuous population buildup through May and June.  Two, just like helping weak hives with brood transfers in the spring, weak fall hives can also be helped by adding brood from strong hives.  I had hesitated doing this because I did not want to weaken any of the strong hives. 

There are 4 remaining tasks yet to do in my apiary during late October.

1)      Reposition the entrance reducers so the smallest (1 inch) opening is controlling bee movement. 

2)      I will be adding mouse guards to a few hives this year.

3)      On a warm day I will be giving each hive a oxalic acid vapor treatment to knock down the varroa mite population one last time.  A warm day is preferred in hopes that the bees won’t be in a tight cluster.  This allows the oxalic acid vapors to coat every bee and any attached varroa mites.

4)      I will continue feeding the 12 winter nucs until they no longer take the sugar syrup.  The cooler days have already slowed the consumption of sugar syrup by 75%. 

Thursday, September 27, 2018


 New England Aster in foreground.  Seeding goldenrod in the background.  Goldenrod is in the aster family also.
 Unknown flower.
Smooth aster; flowers are much smaller, but more numerous, than New England aster.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018


October will be arriving next week and summer is now officially over.  Out in the fields only a few flowers of the aster family are still in bloom.  The first frost is not far off and will kill this last remaining pollen and nectar source. 

I looked into several hives and nucs last weekend.  The queens have severely cut back on raising of brood although there were still small patches of capped brood, open brood, and eggs.  With the decline in both nectar and pollen coming into the hive, northern queens will soon stop all laying.  Some queens of Italian stock may continue laying throughout the winter, but a slower pace. 

The stopping of brood rearing provides an ideal time to do a last mite treatment for the year.  By late October all brood should have emerged; along with all varroa mites hidden in the capped cells.   With no mites hidden inside brood cells this provides the ideal time to apply an oxalic vapor treatment to kill phoretic mites and leave the hive relatively mite free throughout the winter. 

The daily high temperatures and nighttime low temperatures are also declining.  These lower temperatures will cool any feed being offered to the bees.  The bees will not take in cold syrup and, as a consequence, the hours per day when the feed is warm enough for the bees to eat is greatly shortened.  Hopefully you have already completed any fall feeding you were planning. 

Any weak hives should have been combined in September as recommended by previous articles in this blog. 

On the few warm days ahead the bees will be propolyzing the cracks and minor holes in the hive.  This is done to prevent winter winds from gaining access to the hive.  After October 1st do not split the upper and lower brood chambers.  This will break the propolis seal between the boxes and the bees may not be able to repair the damage. 

For those beekeepers that approach beekeeping from a more scientific basis it is a good idea to understand the strength of each hive.   Strong hives tend to survive winter better.  By raising the inner cover for a few seconds you can visually determine the colony strength.  Simply count the gaps between frames that are filled with bees.  Eight to ten frames (8-10) with bees are considered strong hives.   Less than five (5) frames are considered weak.  Ideally, all of your hives will be strong. 

The next thing to consider is how you will limit moisture build up in the hive during winter.  Moisture is generated by the bees when they  eat and metabolize their stored honey.  You should be incorporating moisture control methods now; not in the middle of winter.  You can either let natural air movement vent any moisture from the hive or you can incorporate some type of moisture trap into the top of the hive.  Everyone knows that warm air rises.   This air movement will take any moisture from the hive if you provide an air escape hole high in the hive.  Some beekeepers simply drill a one inch diameter hole below the hand hold recess in the upper brood chamber.  This hole is left open throughout the winter.  It also provides a secondary exit if the lower entrance becomes blocked by snow. (This is the method the author uses with good success.)  Other beekeepers modify the inner cover and add a ¼ inch deep by one inch wide notch in the edge of the inner cover.  The notch is positioned down against the top of the upper brood chamber.  (Inner covers with the notch already present are available commercially.)  Both methods work.  If you don’t want to put holes in your equipment, then you need to add a moisture trap below the inner cover.  The moisture trap can be wood chips or shredded paper suspended above a screen, or a commercially available moisture board.   
 Here is an example of the moisture vent hole drilled below the hand hold cutout.  It also acts as a winter emergency exit. 
Here is a moisture vent cut into the inner cover.  The vent is placed downwards against the top of the brood chamber.  It also acts as an emergency exit if NOT covered by the outer cover rim.  

The weather is still to warm to contemplate adding winter wraps or providing winter feeding,.  Winter wrapping is usually done in late October.  The pros and cons of wrapping your hives will be discussed in the next post and probably at the next club meeting.    As will the providing of emergency winter feed.