Thursday, July 26, 2018


One down side of formic acid treatments is that they should be used when temperatures are less than 85 degrees F.    Sometimes this temperature window is hard to find during the ideal mite treatment time of the month of August.  The coming 10 days are predicted to remain below the 85F limit in the ECWBA area.  If you are planning to use formic acid treatments now would be a good time to apply them.


A sideliner is a beekeeper that is too big to be considered a hobbyist and too small to be considered commercial beekeeper.   Typically, they run from 50 to 100 hives. 

This past week beekeepers Jon and Fred were talked into aiding an aging sideliner re-queen some of his hives.  We thought we might learn a few useful techniques that would help in our hobbyist beekeeping. 

Location, location, location.  The hives were all located southeast of Montello.  The area had large fields of alfalfa.  All of this beekeeper’s hives were located on the edge of the alfalfa fields; usually with a tree line close by to block any winter winds.

All hives were mounted on old hay wagons; six (6) to ten (10) hives per wagon.  All wagons had an electric fence barrier around the edge to counter transient bears that are in this area.  

Although the wagons allow for easy relocation of the hives, in truth, working the hives on top of the wagons was not ideal.  One, space is limited.   There was little room for opening the hives while doing regular inspections.  There is always the danger of falling off the wagon.   Two, with several workers on the wagon it was always rocking and rolling. 


Our method for finding the queens was to simply split the hive and look through them frame by frame.  Each person took a hive and slowly worked through it.

 The Good.  With the exception of one queenless hive, all hives were very strong.  Brood patterns were excellent.  We used smoke on all hives and only suffered 3 stings after disassembling 15 hives.  On the way home we wondered why these hives were being requeened.  The stated reason had been that they were overly aggressive.

The Bad.   These strong hives were overflowing with bees and this made locating the queen more a matter of luck than skill.  We only found five queens in the first 15 hives we worked or roughly 33%.    

Poor hive maintenance resulted in a lot of burr comb and propolis.  We didn’t think these hives had ever been cleaned.  Each frame was glued in place.  We frequently pulled the top bar off a frame trying to remove it. 

This beekeeper was running 9 frames in a ten frame broodbox.  Proper spacing was accomplished using a metal frame spacer along one side.  This spacer added to the difficulty in getting the frames out. 

He was also running 8 frames in the 10 frame honey supers.  These supers definitely contained more honey than my 9 frame supers.  I would guess another 5 pounds.  He said honey extraction was also quicker.

After our poor success in finding the queens we decided on a different approach for day two. 


On day two we decided to use a queen excluder to try to screen out the queen.  Watch the following YouTube video to understand what we were doing.

In this team approach one person was pulling frames from the brood box, a second was shaking the bees from the frames and the third was storing the shaken frames for later reassembly in the hive.   On our first hive we shook the entire 18 frames and searched in the shaking box for 20 minutes before finding the queen.  We were a little dejected on how long it took.  But we still had 100% success rate. 

Then the person pulling frames realized he had a little time to scan the frame before passing it on.  He could do a quick scan before the shaker was ready.  Then the shaker would also do a quick scan.  The third person was also usually helping scan in spare moments.  After that we were finding 90% of the queens prior to shaking all the frames.  So instead of blindly shaking 18 frames from the two deeps we were many times only having to shake only a third of the hive and had the elusive queen in our hands. 

On day two we shook 18 hives.  One was queenless. Of the remaining 17 we found 16 queens.  That’s a 94% success rate.  Quite an improvement over day one.  Only two queens made it into the shaker box.  We actually got to be pretty good at finding queens whether they were yellow, black or striped.  We think it was the fact that we had 3 pairs of eyes watching for them helped tremendously. 


Despite the huge hive bee population and the excellent location most hives only had a single super of honey.  It was usually full.   The upper brood chambers seemed to have excessive honey.  We suspect that the beekeeper was not providing the bees with sufficient empty supers and, as a consequence, had lost out on a lot of honey. 

We were also introduced to a plastic propolis screen; which sort of looks like a queen excluder.  The propolis screen is placed on the top of the hive above the honey supers.   The bees propolize this screen.  The screen is frozen and then flexed will in a plastic bag to release the propolis.  The beekeeper said he was getting $10 per ounce of propolis!  

Propolis screen trap

Despite 20 plus years as a beekeeper this beekeeper seemed to be a novice in some aspects of beekeeping.  This is the end of July but he was planning on starting 3 frame nucs and expected them to grow and overwinter if provided heavy fall feeding.   We suggested 5-6 frames as a minimum of which several should be frames fully filled with capped brood.  I guess time will tell.  We were under the impression that new hives need to be started no later than the end of June to successfully build up for winter.

This beekeeper fall feeds with fructose.  The advantage is that its sugar content is around 80% so that the bees can more quickly dry it to acceptable levels. 

We also noticed he had tried using the oxalic acid on paper shop towels.  He said that many times the bees did not remove the shop towel, which then blocked bee movement between the two brood chambers.  He was not planning on using this method any more.

Friday, July 20, 2018


Here in the area of ECWBA beekeepers we are entering what is commonly called the summer dearth as it pertains to the honey flow.  The sweet clover, trefoil, and flowering tree honey flows are now complete.   Probably 90% of the honey in your supers has been gathered.  From here on out the bees will consume any remaining nectar almost as fast as they gather it. 

Like in anything beekeeping related there are exceptions.  Alfalfa can still provide a honey flow if the neighboring farmer has not done his 2nd or 3rd cutting yet.  There are also two other exceptions.  Purple loosestrife and knapweed are two invasive plant species that will provide nectar in late July and August.  Purple loosestrife is spreading into marshes and other wet areas.  I have seen it in the Oshkosh and Berlin areas.  Knapweed is commonly found on roadsides.  Although good for honey bees, please DON’T plant these two invasive species.   However, the bees will happily gather the nectar.  After all, the honey bee is an invasive species too.  

The dearth also triggers a reduction in brood rearing in the bee hive.  Some beekeepers take advantage of this and apply mite treatments.  As the amount of brood declines the proportion of phoretic mites increases and this make the overall mite population more susceptible to treatment.  Please remember if your honey supers are still on the hive the only approved treatment is formic acid.  Treating now, in theory, helps the hive have lower mite loads prior to the time period when they begin raising the winter “fat body” bees.   Low mite loads will result in winter bees with lower virus and bacterial infection rates.

Some beekeepers choose to remove and extract their honey in early August.  This allows use of other mite treatments since the honey will not then be contaminated.   

The summer dearth will be eased by the appearance of fall flowers.  In our area these include asters, coneflowers and goldenrod.  In some years goldenrod can be a source of secondary honey flow.   Strong fall honey flows are usually very localized. 

Monday, July 16, 2018


Next Saturday, July 21st, is our regularly scheduled club meeting at 9:30AM at the Caestecker Public Library in Green Lake.  There will be a general beekeeping discussion mainly pointed towards the upcoming honey harvest.  Also to be discussed is support of the ECWBA booth at the Green Lake County Fair.

Saturday, July 14, 2018


Here is a short article about the chemical basis that causes African bees and hybridized European honey bees to become so aggressive.  Follow the link.

Thursday, July 12, 2018


As a break from this summer's theme of mite control here is a short article about how the bee's gut bacteria species change depending on the age of the bee.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018


In conjunction with our theme of getting ECWBA beekeepers to control their mite populations I can offer you a link to Randy's recent article on controlling mites.  Please note that he is recommending 2 to 3 mite treatments for our area; a single fall treatment is not sufficient. .

Sunday, July 8, 2018


If you would like to contribute some mites to a University of Wisconsin-Stout research project follow this link.  This group is studying the distribution of the Serratia marcescens sicaria bacteria in the U.S.  SMS bacteria can also cause winter hive loss.  Last winter there was an article on SMS on this blog.  It is found throughout Wisconsin.


Beekeeper Gerard submitted this photo of a bee working milkweed.  So in addition to being important for Monarch butterflies the milkweed is a nectar producer for the honey bee.  Glancing around I am also noticing sweet clover, Dutch clover and trefoil are in bloom.


ECWBA club members keep asking what they should do to control the mites in their hives.  At club meetings we have recommended both a spring and mid-summer (early August) mite treatment.   This article and last week’s article show in the real world how mite levels respond to treatments or lack thereof. 

This past week beekeepers Jon and Fred did another 2 sets of alcohol wash mite checks.  In addition, I finally finished my comparative test of oxalic alcohol fog and oxalic acid vaporization. 


This mite check was performed on two remote hives that have not been treated for mites this year.  These two hives were started on May 1st using packages.  It’s now been eight weeks plus a few days that the mites have been allowed to build unimpeded.  The alcohol wash of 300 bee (1/2 cup of bees) samples yielded 2 and 0 mites from the two hives.  At the mite level of the first hive the mites will probably cause a mite related crash this winter without additional beekeeper intervention.  These hives have honey supers in place so the recommended treatment would be formic acid (MAQS or FormicPro) ASAP during a cool stretch.  


This time it was in Jon’s Apiary.  After disastrous results last year when Jon lost about 95% of his hives in September Jon decided to implement a strict regimen of applying an oxalic vapor treatment to his hives once per week.  He thought the risk of elevated queen loss due to the repeated treatments was less than the potential loss of the entire colony due to mite born diseases.  Since installing the new packages of bees on May 1st Jon has treated his hives every Monday; a total of eight (8) times.   The hives have now built up to the point where a few bees were exploring the honey supers. 

It’s now been nine weeks since package installation and we decided it was time to get an accurate reading on the mite levels in his hives.   We decided that 3 hives should provide a good measure on the success of this oxalic acid vapor treatment scheme.  Taking ½ cup samples of nurse bees from frames containing open brood we performed an alcohol wash.  From the first hive we washed out a total of one (1) mite.  The second hive was queenless and had no open brood.  We did see an open queen cell, but did not see the replacement queen.  The third hive yielded zero (0) mites.  A fourth hive yielded one (1) mite.  

So this mite control method appears to be holding the mite levels at a tolerable level.  Although we did encounter a queenless hive we feel this queen loss level (25%) was no worse than normally occurring with new packages and the loss might not have been related to the treatments.   In comparison I had lost 3 of 15 queens (20%) in my packages prior to any mite treatments. 

With the mites at these low levels a break in the treatments could be in order while the honey flow is   on. Treatments could begin again after the flow without the mites getting out of control. 

EDITORS COMMENT: The EPA has not approved use of oxalic vaporization while honey supers are in place.  It is common knowledge that beekeepers in Europe and elsewhere use oxalic vaporization and that this honey is imported into the U.S.   If we can import this honey why can’t we use the same mite control methods?  Makes no sense to me.  Ah, the vagaries of big government. 


Two weeks ago, I reported on the alcohol wash mite checks performed on a few of my hives.  My worst hive, from a mite perspective, yielded 3 mites.  Based on Randy Oliver’s varroa model that means this hive has approximately 1000 mites; a combination of phoretic mites and those inside capped brood.  Three days after the alcohol wash mite level check I treated the hive with oxalic alcohol fog and monitored the mite drop for 4 days.  I mixed the oxalic alcohol solution and used it within 15 minutes in case there was a tendency for the oxalic acid to breakdown into another substance.  Total mite drop in those 4 days was five (5).  I was expecting a higher mite drop if the oxalic alcohol fog was an effective mite control. 

Next, I treated the hive with my oxalic acid vaporizer.  Total mite drop in the next four days was twelve (12); 3 mites the first day, 5 mites the 2nd day, 3 mites the 3rd day, and 1 mite the 4th day.    From this comparative test it is easy to see that oxalic alcohol fogging was NOT as effective in controlling mites as the oxalic vapor (5 vs 12 mite drops). 

I had run this comparative test earlier this spring, but I discovered one of the hives in the test was queenless.  During this first test the oxalic alcohol fog was also not as effective as the oxalic acid vapor treatment.  However, I discounted this earlier test due to the fact that one of the hives went queenless and this may have effected the test results.  Now with this second test completed and also the warning on the Scientific Beekeeping website ( that the oxalic acid and alcohol combines into a harmless ester, makes me conclude that using the oxalic alcohol treatment is simply not worth the risk.  In addition I have heard of several beekeepers having astounding hives losses in the fall and winter after utilizing oxalic alcohol treatments.  

Wednesday, July 4, 2018


Beekeeper Gerard submitted this photo of a bee gathering mold or fungi from a stump near his apiary.  This purpose of this behavior is presently unknown, but one could speculate the bees are using the mold or fungi as a dietary supplement or to control disease.  There is still a lot to learn about bee behavior.  

Note the tattered wing tips.  This worker is nearing the end of its useful life.