Saturday, March 31, 2018

MARCH 31st REPORT by beekeeper Fred

Both meteorological (March 1st) and astrological (March 20th) spring have come and gone, but we still haven’t got to consistently warm days, spring flowers and budding trees here in central Wisconsin.  In fact heavy snow is predicted in the coming week.  Urgh!!! The bees are still sticking close to their warm hives; only venturing out for cleansing flights in bright sunshine.   However, I did see some bees returning with loaded pollen baskets last week.  I hear that some beekeepers will be getting packages as early as April 7th.   So we better be planning out our bee work NOW. 

The first thing to making a plan is to look back and see how we can improve.  March 31st marks the end of beekeeper’s winter.  For beekeepers winter survival statistics are calculated over a period from October 1st to March 31st.   Using this period gives everyone a common reference point.    To my disappointment and despite following the same varroa mite treatment protocol as the previous two years my winter survival took a nosedive.    Was the decline due to my beekeeping practices or maybe new diseases that I have recently become aware of; SMS and DWV3?  

This past winter I ended up with a mediocre 51% survival and I suspect a few of those survivors may slowly dwindle away as frequently happens.   So there is room for improvement.  I guess I should be thankful that by splitting I should be able to replace most of my losses. 

I keep a detailed spreadsheet about all overwintered hives.  I record data about each hive and then try to draw some lessons from the results.  Data such as queen type, queen age, hive strength, mite treatments, wrapped or unwrapped, cluster location are all entered in the data base.  Here are a few of my observations.

1.       Hives with Saskatraz queens had the highest survival rate at 100%.  I only had 2 Saskatraz hives so this may not be a significant data point, but this line of bees has been bred over the last 20 years to coexist with varroa.

2.       Hives with Purdue Ankle Biter queens had a survival rate of 73%. 

3.       Hives with Russian queens had a survival rate of 48%.

4.       Local mutt queens had a survival rate of 67%.

5.       For the second year in a row hives headed by package queens had 0%, yes ZERO percent, survival. 

6.       2nd year queens had a slightly higher survival rate over 1st year queens.  But this may have solely been the effect of the package queens.  When the package queens are removed the 1st and 2nd year hive survival rates of 1st and 2nd year queens are the same within 1%. 

7.       As an experiment I did not treat two Russian hives with miticides.  They had the same survival rate as the Russian hives I had treated.  

I went through all my deadouts and to the best of my limited abilities determined the reason for each hive’s demise.    I classed one as being robbed out in late fall.  Five were classed as starvation.  The remainder (75%) I classed as viral/bacterial die outs.   Where do I go from here? Let’s look at each in turn.

a.       The robbed out hive should have been combined with another hive earlier in the fall.  Poor job on my part.  I need to get better at detecting and combining weak hives. 

b.       I have not weighed or even just hefted hives in the fall to determine if they are underweight.  I also deliberately chose to only fall feed 1st year hives.  I had mistakenly assumed 2nd year or older hives would have sufficient honey stored away.  That accounts for 4 of the 5 losses.   I will make it a point to check all hives earlier in the fall and feed as necessary.  One question I can’t answer was if the underweight hives had viral/bacterial infections that resulted in sick bees and therefore less foraging bees and less stored honey.

c.       Viral and bacterial diseases are spread by varroa; so even the newly reported diseases can be curtailed by a good mite control strategy.  In previous years I had treated with MAQS in mid-August followed up with top up treatments of oxalic acid in September and October with good success.   I never confirmed the effectiveness of these treatments by doing mite checks.  Trying to get an arm around the situation based on what I have read I will do the following.  In April I will treat all hives with oxalic acid vapor; 3 treatments a week apart.   I also will monitor a few hives using screened bottom boards throughout the summer to verify low mite levels.   Finally, I will move in my fall MAQS treatment to early August.  After pulling the honey supers in mid-August I will run mite checks on all hives to confirm the MAQS treatment was effective and varroa mites are below permissible levels.  If not, I will treat again.  The September and October oxalic vapor treatments will remain the same.

d.       Now to the package queens.  Simply put, I plan to replace all package queens on or before mid-June with mite resistant stock, such as, Saskatraz, Ankle Biters, or Mite Maulers. 

Remember the 6Ps!  Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance.   So, I’ve done my prior planning.  Now I just need to execute to plan and not let laziness get in the way. 

Friday, March 30, 2018


A few club members have indicated that their bee packages will be arriving on April 7th.  The weather forecast indicates continued cold weather for the next few weeks.  The Natures Nectar blog has a few good recommendations for starting packages in cold weather.  Probably the most significant is use of a 5 frame nuc which keeps the bees warmer.  Follow the link to the video.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018


Spring is here; at least today.  Next week looks like another chance of snow!!!  But on this spring like day I was out treating survivor colonies with Oxalic acid vapor.  While out and about I heard and saw the honey bees up in maple trees gathering pollen.  They were returning to their hives with a pale gray/yellow load in their pollen baskets.  I also received reports that pussy willows are now in bloom.
I had just finished gassing this hive with oxalic acid vapor.  When I had plugged the upper hole and bottom entrance there were only about 10 bees present.  This crowd of bees returned in only the 5 minutes of the treatment.  They must have been furiously working nearby maple trees.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

MY CONVERSATION WITH LARRY CAIN by beekeepers Fred and Larry-Rev. 3

Larry was a visitor at our March 17th ECWBA club meeting.  He is from Appleton and is both a beekeeper, a flyer and friend of Damon Reabe, the presenter at our meeting.  He was gracious and participated in our first winter survival survey.  His survival was 10 out 12 hives or 83%, which is noteworthy for central Wisconsin.  He agreed to let me informally quiz him about his mite control strategy.  He stated he is more than willing to help anyone.

After talking about queen rearing for a short time we got down to business.  He indicated that he considered this year’s survival rate a failure.  83% a failure???  He said he obtained 100% the previous two years and therefore was considering methods to improve his mite control strategy in the future.

First to what he does now for varroa control. 

Larry’s hives are installed in 3 sided shelters open to the east  or south.  This shields the hives from the midday summer sun and from the winter winds.  It also facilitates minor hive tasks in inclement weather.  The structural roof allows him to use chain tighteners hooked to deer scales to lift each hive and monitor weight gain during the summer and weight loss through the winter.  Recording the weight on a dry erase board next to each hive allows him to detect even minor changes. During a honey flow a strong hive often gains five pounds during the day and often loses half of that due to evaporation overnight.  Monitoring the weight changes and comparing to other hives is a non-invasive way to possibly detect a  problem within a hive.  This system also permits him to determine if the hive needs supplemental feeding in the fall to assure sufficient honey stores for the winter. 

All of his hives have screened bottom boards.  He inspects the pullout witness board on a weekly basis throughout the year.  He records the mite count on each hive's dry erase board  and, if he sees more than 12 mites on a witness board in one week, he schedules a mite treatment.  This would be one strip of MAQS with supers on or one shot of oxalic vapor if supers are off.  Some experts believe that counting mites on the witness board is not an accurate indication of the level of infestation but Larry considers the intrusive sugar or alcohol tests to be an irritant to the colony, a risk of harming the queen and, perhaps most importantly, a demanding task that most beekeepers just don't get done on a timely enough basis to effectively control the mites.  In late summer he treats with MAQS (full strength-2pads).  In the fall, when temps are too low for MAQS, he uses a single oxalic vapor treatment as a cleanup.

Because of the “poor” outcome (83%) this winter he is considering incorporating a fall brood break in 2018.  After the honey flow is complete he will isolate the queen in the hive for 30 days in a tube of window screen with a cork at each end and then do an oxalic vapor treatment which will kill off the phoretic mites (there should be no mites in cells after 30 days).  Then he will release the queen to allow the colony to resume raising its winter bees.   

Other things Larry does to help the bees thrive. 

Two winters ago Larry had five hives that, due to a poor honey flow in the fall, were dangerously low in population and honey stores.  He decided to conduct an experiment to see if such colonies could be saved.  He fully enclosed one of his shelters, insulated the floor, walls and ceiling, installed lights and a 1500 watt heater.  Each hive was fitted with a 2" clear plastic tube which was extended through the wall to the outside.  To minimize heat loss the outside end of the tube was fitted with a rubber cap with a 1/2" hole large enough for bees (perhaps even carrying a dead one) to make their cleansing flights. Keeping the temperature at 45 degrees allowed the bees to stay warm while using less than a pound per week of stored honey. Each hive survived. When spring foraging began and traffic increased he was amazed to see the inbound (heavy) bees generally travelling on the bottom half of the tube while the lighter outbounds travelled upside down on the upper half! 

One other side note.  Noticing in January that the weekly mite count in 5 of his 12 hives was of concern and in 3 others of great concern.  He treated those eight hives with oxalic acid vapor.  Over the following three weeks he counted almost 2300 mites with 1300 of them falling from the 3 hives that were of great concern. He views the results as clear evidence that, even though recommended mite treatments are done in summer and fall, there could still be a significant infestation.  Mite counts are now practically nonexistent in most of his hives.

Larry just attended his local bee club meeting in Appleton.  They went around the room surveying overwintering success.  He said it was the same situation as the ECWBA rates; very high losses by everyone but a few.
This shelter has been changed in several ways.  The tree has been cut down to allow more sunshine.  The glass sidewalls have been paneled to keep bees from having difficulty travelling.  A rain gutter protects arriving bees from drips during a drizzle.  The rainwater is directed to a sand-filled trough to provide water for the bees. 
 These east-facing hives catch the early morning sunlight but are in the shade by noon.  It would probably be better to face southeast.  The deer scale, chain tightener and chains can be seen on the far right hive.   

Larry overwinters his hives with two deeps.  The third deep is actually a feeder.  Inside each feeder he has installed two Boardman feeders. Its configured so the bees can access the feeders from below and Larry can swap out empty feed bottles from above without suiting up.  Ingenious!

 This is the interior of the emergency shelter.  That's the top of the electric heater in the foreground.  The hives were wrapped in case the temperature dropped due to power failure.  The plastic tube slips into a 2" circular saw cut in the adapter that has a 1" hole aligned with the 1" hole that had already been drilled

Larry uses queen excluders.  

Question: how times is an average hive treated?
Answer: Well, I used to eschew treatment and have gradually come to the conclusion that it’s absolutely essential not only to protect my own hives but those of my neighbors.  In the past I’ve noticed that a fresh colony such as a split or a swarm seems to get by with a small mite load and doesn’t need treatment or at most a knock back (one strip) of MAQS is sufficient. But an overwintered colony seems to get loaded up requiring treatment early, often and with a knock down (two strips). But with the promise of oxalic which doesn’t seem to adversely affect the bees and can be used in cold weather, I expect the overwintered colonies to have a lower level infestation. So I think and hope I that, with winter and spring applications of oxalic vapors, the mite levels I experienced in the past will no longer occur.  I know that doesn’t directly answer your question but I’m afraid that this whole mite thing is so variable depending on the specific hive and treatment is in such flux that I hesitate to put a number on it. 

Question: Do you have scheduled foundation/comb replacement?
Answer: Well, Fred, like a lot of things I always plan to phase out the three year old comb but it often looks so good and I (or other beekeepers) often need drawn comb for splits and swarm captures so, at the end of the season some of the older combs have brood or critical honey stores. So, I do agree with the concept but, in practice, it just doesn’t happen with any reliability. 
Larry freely admits not all beekeepers will go to the lengths he does in order to keep their bees alive. 

Friday, March 23, 2018


Although I am not done with deadout analysis it appears that most of my hives that succumbed this winter died out due to either a viral or bacterial infection.   I did see signs of the SMS (Serratia Marcescens Sicaria) bacterial infection in several of my deadouts, but without a full fledged biological lab it is hard to be certain.   In previous years I addressed deadouts simply by cleaning out all the dead bees and scrapping the bottom board.  This had always been sufficient when I thought I was combating a viral infection.    I was unsure if this simple cleanup method was sufficient for addressing hives that had succumbed to SMS.    I thought the SMS bacteria could not survive the cold of Wisconsin winter without a warm host; either the bees or varroa. 

Being unsure I went to the expert on SMS infections; Professor James Burritt at UW-Stout.  Here is his response.

Great to get your message. My best estimation is that the bacterium does not remain viable on the equipment or hive parts. Our results suggest the bacterium is transmitted by live Varroa mites.  Don’t hesitate to ask any questions you like, and we can talk by phone if that would be helpful.

Very best,


So I plan to continue using my present deadout cleaning process as described above.  Also please note that it is varroa that transmits this bacteria to the bees so make sure you monitor mite populations and conduct a mite control program.  

Sunday, March 18, 2018

2017-2018 WINTER SURVIVAL SURVEY by beekeeper Fred

During our March club meeting we passed out a survey to gauge winter survival.  I also added in data from a few local non-members where I knew the situation.  This data was from 18 beekeepers; 10 members and 8 non-members covering a total of 143 hives in the ECWBA area of operation.   The survey was anonymous and was not meant to flag winners or losers, but rather to gather data to help all beekeepers increase their winter survival.  My feeling is that having good survival isn’t a simple matter of luck, but hard work and attention to details. 

The best survival to date goes to a club member who had 6 of 7 hives (86%) surviving at this time.  A close second went to a non-member visiting the club meeting from Appleton.  He had 10 of 12 hives (83%) survive.  These two respondents were in a league of their own.   I will try to contact these individuals to get more details on their beekeeping practices so we can pass them along to everyone. 

The next grouping was at the 50% survival level.  This was composed of 3 club members.  The author was in this group.  (I can’t decide if I should feel good or terrible with this result.  But I am determined to do better next winter. I am slowly analyzing each of my deadouts to ascertain whether mites or other causes were the reason for the hive’s demise and will report these results in a later post.)

There were two with 25% survival.

Finally, the bulk (13) of respondents with 12% or lower survival.

There are obviously lessons to be learned from the two beekeepers with good survival.  I will try to contact these individuals to get more details on their beekeeping practices so that we can all learn from their success.    They both indicated they treated against mites 3 or more times. 

From the survey form I can see that they both also used screened bottom boards.  Screened bottom boards do two things.  One, they let dislodged mites fall through the screen and they can not climb back aboard a bee.  Some data indicates this can reduce mite levels by up to 20%.   Second, which may be more important, is that these beekeepers used the screened bottom boards to monitor mite levels.  One respondent indicated he schedules a treatment if his weekly inspection of the sticky board below the screen shows more than 12 mites (roughly a 2 mite drop per day). 

Mite resistant queens (Russians, VSH, Ankle Biters, Saskatraz) may be a key factor in improving survival, but is not a silver bullet.  Four beekeepers reported their surviving hives had mite resistant queens.  The beekeeper with the 85% survival reported using mite resistant queens (type unknown) in all hives. 

Powdered sugar?  The one respondent that used powdered sugar for mite control had 12% survival. 

The only beekeeper that did not treat with either chemical or powdered sugar lost all hives. 

The composite survival rate for club members (48%) beat the composite survival rate (28%) of non-members.  However, when I take out the top four club performers the club composite rate drops to 36% survival.  I also saw a report out of the Wisconsin state apiarist that hive loses have been running in the 50% range the last few years.  This includes beekeepers that make their living with bees.   

As stated above the survey was anonymous.  If possible, I would like the two top performers to contact me, so I can quiz them a little more on their beekeeping techniques.  Call Fred at 920-229-2204.  Thank you. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


This article describes how I and some close beekeeping friends keep our bees.  These methods may or may not work for you or fit with your beekeeping philosophy.

As I sit here thinking of spring and writing this article I can see snow falling, but tomorrow its supposed to warm to 48F and the bees will be flying.  Well I guess that’s simply March in Wisconsin.  The buds on the maples are beginning to swell so it can’t be long until the surviving hives are raising new brood at a furious rate.  So I am trying to put in writing the things we should be doing in the last two weeks of March and beginning of April. 

1)      Check your survivor hives and make sure they have enough food.  There still should be capped honey next to the bee cluster.  If not, consider adding supplemental dry feed.  Its still too cold for liquid feed.  This inspection should just be a quick peek.  You don’t want to chill any brood the hive is trying to raise.  The rule of thumb is if you are comfortable outside in a short sleeve shirt then longer and more detailed inspections are OK. 

2)      Clean up your deadouts.  Sweep off the bottom boards.  Remove all frames and shake and brush out the dead bees.  Replace any mouse damaged frames.  Reassemble the hive and seal up the entrance until your new bees arrive.   Sometimes a coat of paint is warranted. 

3)      Order replacement bees (packages or nucs) ASAP!  Some package suppliers are reporting they are already sold out.  

4)      Winter wrapping can now be removed. 

5)      If you get a 70F day you can consider reversing the brood chamber boxes.  If the bees have brood only in the top brood chamber then do the reversal.  If there is brood in both boxes then a reversal is not really necessary because the queen has obviously transitioned back to the lower box.

6)      The main enemy of the bees continues to be mites and the viruses and bacteria they carry.  A spring mite treatment is highly recommended.  The type of mite control is usually highly influenced by the individual beekeeper’s preferences.   Just remember to do the treatment prior to installing the honey supers.  This ensures you won’t contaminate the honey and there are that many less components to handle during the treatment. 

7)      Identify and quantify your strongest hives.  The strong hives will likely swarm beginning in mid-May.  You can beat them at their own game by performing a split before they swarm.  One half of the split will have the old queen.  You need to make a decision as to whether to let the bees in the second half raise their own queen (called a walk away split) or whether you will introduce a queen.   Performing the split eliminates the excitement of trying to capture a swarm that has settled 30 feet up your favorite tree.    If you a going the new queen route you now know how many to order.  If the “walk away split” is unsuccessful in raising a queen you can still buy a queen if some are available. 

Sunday, March 11, 2018

March 11th, Foragers out and about

Beekeeper Gerard snapped these two photos of honey bees working his bird feeder.  That means they must be raising brood and are out looking for pollen or a suitable substitute.

 Bee digging in cracked grain dust in bird feeder.
Bee sunning/warming on roof of feeder before flight home.  Any guess on what the white blob is?

Here its airborne and the blob is still there?  Is it a water droplet covered with dust?  


This article is to remind all club members, guests and walk-ins that there will be a club meeting this Saturday, March 17th, at 9:30AM.  As usual the meeting will be at the Caestecker Library in Green Lake.  This month a local aerial sprayer will discuss the role of aerial spraying in Wisconsin agriculture and how sprayers attempt to minimize the impact of spraying on honey bees and wild pollinators.

A survey will also be passed out to measure the winter survival experienced by ECWBA members.  Guests are also welcome to provide their data.  This survey will be anonymous.  If possible please check your hives prior to the meeting.  Thursday and Friday are predicted to be approximately 50 degrees so your live hives should be flying.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Honey as a cancer cure?

This may just be "fake news" or "unconfirmed news" but it sounds good.  Eating honey may keep cancer at bay.  See the article via the link.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018


This article confirms that most bees in southern California are now "Africanized".   What is interesting is that this author of this article seems to be promoting use of Africanized bees to counter the varroa mite.  Another reason to use local survivor stock!

Thursday, March 1, 2018


Adrian Quiney, a beekeeper in Hudson Wisconsin, appears to be able to successfully control mites WITHOUT chemicals.  He uses what is called the dutch/german drone brood varroa control method in June.  Later in August he splits his hives and overwinters his bees in double deep five frame nucs.   So far this winter he has had outstanding success with a 87% nuc survival rate through the end of February.  I can't think of a single ECWBA member that wouldn't like a survival rate like that.

Here is a link to a YouTube video describing the Dutch/German drone brood varroa control method.

Here is a link to his February 27th inspection of his nucs.

Follow this link to see his moisture control method for overwintering nucs.


The author of Nature's Nectar blog is located in Stillwater, Minnesota.  Therefore much of the advice in this blog is directly applicable to the ECWBA area also.  Follow the link below for some good spring hive maintenance advice.

MARCH 1st APIARY CHECK by beekeeper Fred

This article describes how I and some close beekeeping friends keep our bees.  These methods may or may not work for you or fit with your beekeeping philosophy. 

Those three warm days at the end of February were wonderful.  I enjoyed seeing many bees taking advantage of the warm temperatures to take cleansing flights.  The lengthening period of daylight should have also triggered the queens to begin laying by now.   Since the start of brood raising can result in hive starvation if the cluster cannot readily access food,  periodically throughout March I plan to check that all hives have sufficient readily available emergency sugar supplies.

I will be using the warmer March days to start cleaning out my deadouts in preparation for a few packages to be arriving in late April.  I will try to determine the cause of each hive’s demise.  Despite last fall’s high hopes varroa, viruses and bacteria have wreaked their havoc on my hives over this winter.   While replenishing winter feed I did see the symptoms of a Serratia Marcescens Sicaria bacterial infection (See the February 21st post in the ECWBA blog for more details on this bacterial infection.) in a few of the hives.  That’s a little discouraging after the previous two winters with good survival rates. 
 This hive had a 3 inch spacer to allow adding emergency sugar discs.  The blanket is on top of the sugar to minimize air movement and absorb moisture.  These dead bees separated themselves from the cluster and climbed on top of the blanket.  This is a symptom of a serratia infection.
 Another deadout.  This feeder has a five inch diameter tube to hold the sugar disc in the center of the hive on top of the frames.  You can see the bees climbed up and away from the frames and are in piles alongside the sugar.  This behavior was only seen in deadouts.  Living hives do not have any bees in the side pockets.  Again, a serratia infection is the suspected cause. 

For those beekeepers that do not provide winter emergency feed the presence of many dead bees on the top of the inner cover is a symptom of serratia.   

As of March 1st my overall hive survival is down to a miserable 59%.   Survival by queen type is:  Saskatraz-100%, Ankle Biter-73%, Russian-59%, Local mutts-67%, and last year’s package queens-17%.  The high Saskatraz survival may be a fluke since there were only 2 Saskatraz hives in my apiary.   My initial observations are that mite resistant bee types continue to have the best survival rates and California package queens have the lowest.   (Remember these are just my observations and may not be scientifically supportable.  My apiary is too small to draw firm conclusions.)  Winter survival statistics typically run from October 1st to March31st, so I have another month to go before calculating my final survival statistics.

I have already placed queen orders so that I can change out the queens in all new packages before the end of May.  I will be installing a mix of Saskatraz, Ankle Biters and Mite Maulers in new packages. 

Serratia Marcescens Sicaria ( serratia, for short) is a bacterial infection, not a viral infection.  Initial research into this bacterial infection shows that it is also transmitted by varroa.  So the control of serratia is closely tied to the control of varroa.  In the two previous years I have only practiced varroa control in late August with MAQS and mid-September and mid-October with oxalic vapor.   I am now considering adding a spring oxalic vapor treatment, but intend to read more on the pros and cons of multiple mite treatments prior to proceeding.  Each mite treatment does entail a small related risk of killing the hive’s queen.  I have also seen some literature that shows fall mite treatments should be done as early as late July.  I will be looking at this  more closely. 

A little less than 4 weeks to the official start of spring.  Yea!