Tuesday, December 31, 2019


We’ve reached the halfway point in the beekeeper’s winter (October 1st thru March 31st)!  So far, the winter in central Wisconsin has been upside down.  Snow in October and warmer weather in December.  Hopefully your bees are warm and snug in their hives because January is usually the critical time frame when the majority of winter losses occur.  

December 29th, 49F, 12:30PM

On the last few days of December I went out and checked my hives and winter nucs.  It was odd to not trudge through the snow on my rounds.  I added emergency sugar to those hives that needed it.  As mentioned previously the bee clusters in almost all hives were in the upper brood chamber.  Other ECWBA members reported the same observation at the December club meeting. 

The winter nucs are doing well also.  Two weeks ago I thought the nuc on the right side was dead.  They proved me wrong and made a showing in the warm weather. 

So far 98% of my hives and 98% of the winter nucs are alive. The survival of the nucs continues to surprise me.  Weren't we always told that it takes a big cluster to get through winter?  The mite control and feeding last summer and fall is paying off.  But to repeat, January is usually the critical time for hive survival.  At that time, when in tight cluster and immobilized by the extreme cold, the bees are most susceptible to varroa born viruses and starvation.  At any rate I will be worrying about their survival until the end of March.  The worrying is the plight of all dedicated beekeepers.

January is the time when the queen also begins slowly laying again.  This will limit the movement of the cluster since the eggs and brood must be kept warm.   Consequently, the chances of starvation are increased.  Placing an emergency sugar disc in the center of the hive on the top of the frames will lessen the chances of starvation.   The cost of a few pounds of sugar is cheap insurance against starvation and the need to buy a replacement package or nuc.

On the cold and rainy and snowy days in January I will be assembling additional frames.  Call me a traditionalist, but I feel the bees like wooden frames with wax foundation over the newfangled plastic frames.  In my experience the bees seem to ignore and not draw out plastic frames more than a year old.  Apparently, the ultra thin wax coating sprayed on the plastic evaporates over time and after that the bees avoid using it.  Dealing with undrawn plastic frames is just another task that I would like to avoid in the rush of the summer beekeeping season.  Instead I build a wax foundation frames in the winter.   One of the myriad of different choices a different beekeepers routinely make.  If you like plastic frames and foundation go with your preference.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

HALF WAY!!!! by beekeeper Fred

Yesterday, December 21st, was the winter solstice.  Meteorologically we are halfway to spring.  It appears that for the next week we will be having unseasonably warm weather.  The bees have been taking advantage of the sunny weather and are out for voiding flights.

The microclimate on the face of the hive is warmer than the surrounding air.  The warm surface and the sun entice the bees to gather on the surface around the upper entrance. Since I don't see much activity by the lower entrance (covered by mouse guard) I assume the cluster is in the upper brood box.  On a few hives the main activity is at the bottom entrance.

Here is a bank of four winter nucs.  I had thought the right nuc was dead when I checked it a few days ago, but maybe not!  Wouldn't be the first time the bees have fooled me.

Sunday, December 15, 2019


In a recent post I had stated that many of my hives seemed ill prepared for winter.  The following article provides a possible explanation.  All of my hives are in a corn and soybean environment as described in the article.


Saturday, December 14, 2019


I’ve been beekeeping for a little more than 10 years now.  Over that time my honey harvest has been gradually growing as my number hives and proficiency have been increasing.  As the volume of honey increased I have had it in storage for longer periods.  Although honey doesn’t spoil in storage it will I’ve crystalize.  The rapidity of crystallization is depend on the type of flowers used for the nectar and also the storage temperature.  I primary use 5 gallon buckets for long term storage.  Five gallon bucket heaters are readily available from most bee supply houses and will de-crystalize the bucket in a little more than a day.  The rub comes when you need to de-crystalize a large number of small honey jars.  For small quantities a simple frying pan with warm water will do the trick.  I was looking for a bigger set-up that was also less labor intensive.  

So last week I built my first honey warmer.  I chose to use an old metal army footlocker.  Some people use old refrigerators.  Footlockers are frequently available at fleamarkets for between $10 and $20 depending on your negotiating skills.  NOTE: Some footlockers are wood.  I would avoid using a wood footlocker because it may catch fire.  


Then I installed a layer of insulation on the inside.  I used one inch foam insulation with a foil backing on one side.  The insulation is held in place with duct tape.  This insulation cost me $20 for a 4’ X 8’ sheet; of which I used about half.  

My heat source was simply two 100 watt incandescent light bulbs.  The bulbs were screwed into low cost plug adapters ($2 each).  To hold them upright I purchased a five socket power strip ($5).  

Finally, there is the temperature controller.  Seeing none locally I went to Amazon.  There were two low cost controllers available.   I purchased a WILLHI 1436 controller (cost $28).  Initially I just placed the controller inside the footlocker.  I plan to permanently install it on the top of the footlocker when I get time to carefully route the wires.  Programming the controller was confusing.  The instructions were all but worthless.  After a bit of frustration and cursing, I somehow got it programmed to turn on below 99F and off above 101F.  Please don’t ask me to do it again! 

Since I placed the controller on the inside it is not possible to monitor the lights/heaters are cycling; ie not burnt out.  So I drilled a small light monitoring hole in the cover.  I just need to glance at the hole and can see the lights switching on and off. 

I loaded up it up with 30 pounds of honey in 1 and 2 pound bottles.   The controller is cycling; 20 seconds ON and 100 seconds OFF.  This is maintaining the footlocker at 100F set point.   I let it run over night and in the morning after about 12 hours the bottles closest to the lights had de-crystalized.  But those farthest away were only partially de-crystalized.  Also there was a thin layer of undesired sugar crystals on the bottom of some jars.  These crystals could act as the starting point for re-crstallization.  So I made several minor changes.  First, I repositioned the temperature to the lowest point in the box and also farthest from the heat source.  Next, I raised the jars on a grill so warm air could circulate to the underside of each jar. These changes have dissolved the sugar crystals on the bottom of the jars.   My third option is to increase the temperature set point.  Researching this issue, it appears temperatures above 120F will damage the enzymes in honey.  I will avoid this third option since I want to consider my honey as raw.  Honey in the hive probably reaches 100F on hot summer days.  
The "grill" is simply 1/2 inch hardware cloth on a wood frame. 
Two light bulbs easily keep the box at 100F and de-crystallize the honey.


Last week we experienced our first real test of bee survival when temperatures reached almost 0F for two nights in a row.  I have to report that I lost one nuc at my latest check and my overall survival of hives and nucs has declined to 98%.   But after last year’s -36F testing of the bees, I am now a believer that bees without varroa/virus infections can handle the cold.  After all they had survived for millions of years without our help.  So why am I still worried that my bees may not make it through the winter.  It’s probably a typical beekeeper reaction.  

Just prior to that cold snap I added a second round of 2 1/2 pound emergency sugar discs to all hives. (I skipped the winter nucs due to their smaller population).  While adding the discs I noted that the bees in 90% of the hives were already in the upper brood box and also consuming the first disc.  Consumption of the disc ranged from totally gone to slight nibbling.   This year I added the emergency sugar in mid-November.  In previous years I had added it in mid-December.  Are the bees eating the sugar simply because its there or are they truly short of honey?  I guess this is why I’m worrying now.  This isn’t the weather where I could disassemble the hive and research their honey storage situation.  So I will keep providing the hives with sugar every other week until spring.   Although the penny pincher in me doesn’t like the idea, it does make good economic sense to give the hive $20 of sugar instead of paying $120 for a replacement package. 

These observations got me thinking.  I don’t think I can legitimately blame the bees for not filling the brood chambers with honey.  So my first thought was that it was last summer’s weather which reduced honey production.  But I can’t use this reason, because I had my best honey production ever.   My second thought was: In my zest to get things ready for the honey flow, am I supering my hives too early?; ie. prior to the bees refilling the two brood boxes with honey.  Bees tend to work in a vertical direction if permitted.  So my early supering would divert the incoming nectar upwards instead of into the side frames of the deeps.    Referring to my beekeeping notes I see I put the honey supers on the hives earlier this year than previous years.  Also, before adding them I did not verify the deeps had been replenished.  A more experienced beekeeper told me I shouldn’t be adding the honey supers until I am seeing the bees adding fresh white wax along the top edge of the honey frames in the brood chamber boxes.   So my plan for next year is to super only when the hives need the extra storage space.   Maybe you can teach an old dog new tricks.  

On the past few cold days I have been spending my spare time assembling and wiring frames.  I will build up a small stockpile of ready-to-go frames so I can immediately replace any damaged equipment.

My other winter project will be to assemble a honey jar warming cabinet to de-crystallize the honey.  It looks like an old WWII metal footlocker will do the trick.  It is big enough to hold a large quantity of 1 and 2 pound jars.  A temperature controller can be purchased for about $28 on Amazon.  This will be used to switch on and off a heater.  In my design the heater is a simple incandescent light bulb.  In the enclosed box, the light bulb should be able to elevate the box temperature sufficiently to de-crystallize the honey.  I will show the warming box build process in detail in a future blog article. 

PS-the December ECWBA meeting is next Saturday at 9:30AM at the Caestecker Public Library in Green Lake.    See you there. 

Sunday, December 8, 2019

FERAL BEES by beekeeper Fred

Feral bees have somehow developed the ability to survive year to year without the aid of miticides or other beekeeper manipulations.  For the feral bee populations found in Ohio and Kentucky the main attribute that these feral bees exhibit is a highly elevated chewing defense mechanism; whereby the bees chew off the legs of the varroa mites which kills them.  Observations are that 60-80% of the varroa on the bottom board have been chewed.   One hive with feral bees has now lived for 5 years without any interventions.

Feral bees are not escaped swarms from your neighborhood beekeeper.  They are bees that have survived long term in the wind.

Does Wisconsin have similar populations of feral bees hidden in our woods and abandoned buildings?  For adventurous beekeepers a search for feral bees could be fun.

Here are the pointers I got from Dwight Wells in Ohio.  He is one of the leading figures in that area in the search for wild survivor bees.

1.       Minimum area of forest of interest—15 square miles

2.       Recommended distance from known beehives; both hobbyists and commercial—5 miles minimum, but 10 miles preferred

3.       Trees should be 75 to 100 years old to provide cavities of sufficient size to satisfy a feral swarm

4.       Old abandoned buildings are also possibilities.

5.       Presence of feral bees can proven by putting out feeding stations with pollen substitute, such as Mann Lake Ultra Bee powder.  On warm spring days above 50F, the feral bees will visit the feeding stations.  If you observe activity you then can put out swarm traps.   The feeding station is a 18 inch length of 4 inch diameter PVC.  Half inch hardware screen is placed over the ends to prevent other critters from each the bait.  The station is positioned about 5 feet above the ground. 

6.       Before trespassing make sure to check with the landowner or the DNR for state lands. 

For those of you on Facebook check out Chasing Feral Honey Bees FB.  

Thursday, December 5, 2019


Bees have several defense mechanisms which they use to cope with varroa.  It seems hives exhibit most of these defense mechanisms to some degree; usually at a very low level.

One mechanism is the chewing on the varroa. Chewed varroa essentially bleed to death.   The Purdue Mite Biter is an example of this bee type.

Next using chemical ques some bees decap, clean out and then recap cells containing varroa.  Finally some hives open the cells with bee larvae that are either being attacked or killed by varroa and remove the larvae and varroa inside.  These are known as VSH bees.

Various beekeeping authorities have tried to increase the efficiency of these defense mechanisms by breeding.  To date they have had limited success in making these mechanisms strong enough and also permanent.

It is also reported that feral bees have also, via natural selection, strengthened the chewing attribute as part of their coping mechanisms.  It is reported that feral bees in Kentucky and Ohio are damaging/killing 60% of the varroa that are on the bottom board.  Hives with these feral bees have been reported to have survived 5 years without chemical varroa treatments.  It has been reported that some crosses of the Kentucky/Ohio bees are chewing at an 80% rate.

Perhaps a cross which has all three types of coping mechanisms will solve the varroa problem.

Almost all bees purchased in packages do not have these enhanced attributes.

Chewing damage on the leg of a varroa mite

Sunday, December 1, 2019


We are now through one-third of the bee’s winter; October through March.  November started out with below normal temperatures, but towards the end of the month temperatures have moderated and we are now running about average.  There is still a long stretch of winter to go; in fact, we haven’t even reached the shortest day of the year on December 21st. 

Partly out of pure curiosity and partly out of worry I listen to my hives for activity about once every two weeks; typically, on about the 1st and 15th of each month.   I use a stethoscope to listen and place it over the upper entrance.  A low hum indicates the bees are alive.  A stoney silence is the indication of a dead hive.  I dread hearing that stoney (or dead)silence. This is a simple go/no go check.   Other beekeepers simply place their ear against the side of the hive.  Of course, trying to listen through insulation could prove challenging. 

This information is actually of little useful value, but hearing that “hum” is an indication that I performed my mite control successfully the previous year.   Slowly marching down the line of hives stopping to listen to each hive gives you good or bad feedback on your mite control efforts.

The other potential value is that this information gives you a heads up on the number of packages you may need to order in the spring and allows you to budget your beekeeping dollars accordingly.   Looking at my beekeeping records for the past six years I have learned three things.  1) Prior to understanding varroa population dynamics and developing a good control program I was steadily losing hives beginning in November.  2) The cold snaps in January and February were always associated with additional hive losses.  3) After implementation of the good mite control regime the hives glided through fall, winter, and even those -36F cold snaps.  

Something to keep in mind is that you should never expect 100% hive survival.  In the pre-varroa days winter losses usually ran in the 15 to 20% range.  Demise of the queen, extremely long cold snaps and just lack of a sufficient food were the most common reasons for hive loss.  If you are only running one or two hives a loss of even one hive ends up being a significant loss. 

At any rate after checking my hives over the last two days my hive and winter nuc survival is running at 99%.  So far, so good.   This information also gives me the luxury to consider using splits to replace my winter losses instead of buying packages.  A queenless walkaway split costs you nothing whereas a package will cost you at least $120.  Or you could plan ahead and have a queen delivered at the time of the split.   A walkway split keeps basically the same genetics in your apiary.  A purchased queen imports new genetics, which may or may not be beneficial. 

In November I also added winter feeders to my hives.  Actually, those feeders are simply a 3 inch high spacer to allow insertion of the emergency 2 ½ pound sugar disc I add to each hive.  While installing the spacer I noted the bee clusters were already in the upper brood chamber in about 75 percent of my hives.  Since I have been taught that “the cluster starts the winter in the lower brood chamber’ this situation concerned me.  Easing my concern are some notes I took back in the winter of 2018-2019 when a similar percentage of clusters were in the upper brood chamber in November along with the fact that last winter I had 88% survival even with the clusters starting winter in the upper brood box.  Maybe the textbooks aren’t always right.  I guess we will know next spring, when my final survival statistics are known.  

Here is a quick pictorial of my winter emergency feed process.

First, remove the outer and inner covers.  Then install a shim of appropriate height.  Mine is roughly 2 ½ inches. Tape the joint between the hive and the shim to seal the crack.

Second, place the emergency sugar disc directly on top of the frames. 

Third, I cover the sugar disc with a blanket.  It retards are circulation and also absorbs water vapor.  Then replace the inner and outer covers.

A beekeeping tidbit.  Wax moths do NOT eat wax.  Actually, their larvae eat the old dark cocoons in the brood comb, which are evidently high in protein.  Tunneling from cell to cell they can cause a lot of damage.   I have never had wax moth damage to my honey super combs in 12 years of beekeeping and do not use pesticides during their storage  The wax moth and its larvae are warm weather creatures.  Storing your honey supers in unheated outdoor storage area quickly leads to their demise if any were present.  One caveat is that I use queen excluders between the brood chamber and honey supers so I don’t have brood cocoons in any honey super cells.     A good reason to use queen excluders?  Most beekeepers rail against the use of pesticides.  Wouldn’t this include moth poisons?  What’s the saying?  Walk the talk.   We will probably have a long and spirited debate on this topic at the next ECWBA meeting on December 21st.  

Happy beekeeping!

Monday, November 18, 2019

Sunday, November 17, 2019


Here is a link to an article about how probiotics reduced levels of American Foulbrood infections.  However, before you go buy some consider the following.

 1) Standard practice is to KILL and BURN hives with American Foulbrood (AF).  Since the probiotic did not eradiate the AF you may still need to KILL and burn your hive.
2) In 10 years I have only heard of one (1) case of AF among all ECWBA members and in only in one hive.  The state inspector required this hive be killed and burned.  I don't believe this alternate approach is approved for use in treating AF.  
3) Before you go to expense of using probiotics prophylactically you should consider the expense of the probiotics and the small probability of catching AF.  In other words you should do a cost benefit calculation.
4) The study said probiotics "significantly" increased hive survival.  The value of the term "significantly" was not defined.


Sunday, November 10, 2019


Here is an article describing the chewing behavior developed by feral bees.  Purdue Mite Biter, Mite Mailer, etc. designer bees are also exhibiting this behavior.  There is a better future for the honey bee!  Also note that the article expressly recommends against package bees.


Saturday, November 9, 2019


Here's a nifty gadget.  Only thing is it doesn't determine varroa levels.



THE ECWBA monthly meeting will be held on November 16th at the Caestecker Public Library in Green Lake.  Start time I 9:30AM, but many members arrive early for off topic discussions.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019


Follow the link to information on two classes in early November at Capital Bee Supply in Columbus.    Honey Grading & Labeling and Making Balms and Salves.  Please note the link shows the Honey Grading class to be on September 9th; whereas the actual date is November 9th.



Beekeeping is primarily an outdoor summer activity.  But here in central Wisconsin winter holds sway for roughly 5 months of the year.  What is an enthused beekeeper to do during this long dormant period?


1)      Attend your local bee club meetings.  The other local beekeepers can provide a lot of information to improve your beekeeping in the coming year.

2)      Review the events of the previous year and identify things you can do differently to improve your outcome in the upcoming year. 

3)      Read about beekeeping.  There are two beekeeping magazines; American Bee Journal and Bee Culture.  In addition, there are numerous beekeeping books.  NOTE: The ECWBA donated to the local WiNNEFOX library system about 30 different beekeeping books.  These should all be available through your local library.  See the RESOURCE section of this blog for a list of the titles.

4)      Make a personal beekeeping plan for 2020.

5)      Inspect equipment that is in storage.  Conduct repairs as required.  Replace old brood foundation that is more than 10 years old.  Over time the brood cocoons built up inside the cell and the result is a smaller worker bee.

6)      Assemble and paint new equipment if you will be expanding your apiary in 2020.

7)      Consider building a nuc box or swarm box.

8)      Build a supply of spare frames with new foundation.  

9)      Make up sugar patties for use as a winter emergency food supply for your hives.  


1)      Periodically monitor the status of your hives.  Listening for the hum of the bees with a stethoscope will let you know if they are dead or alive.

2)      Add emergency sugar patties to the top of hives to prevent starvation. 

Friday, November 1, 2019


November is starting out with snow on the ground; which is a bit early even for central Wisconsin.  Looking at the long range forecast it looks like flying days for the bees won’t occur again until spring.  Yesterday I listened to each hive for activity and brushed snow away from the entrances.  Brrr!

The snow will trigger field mice to look for warm winter quarters.  Don’t let that place bee your hives.  Get the entrance reducer switched to the one (1) inch opening.  Use of mouse guards is optional.  

Temperature will be low enough that hive wraps can now be installed if you are inclined in that direction.  As I have stated previously, I saw no difference in survival rates for either wrapped or unwrapped hives over a period of 5 years.  However, I did put wraps on 4 hives that are next to open water and totally unprotected from the winter winds.  

In my apiary one (1) hive has already bit the dust.  It was totally robbed out.  No honey in either of the deeps.  I suspect it had gone queenless back in September.  According to my notes when I had graded my hives on October 1st this hive was still well populated, but I graded as medium strength, not strong.  Any mites in this hive probably hitched a ride on the robber bees and moved to a new hive.  Luckily, I had treated this hive with oxalic vapor in both September and October.   I guess I am already out of the running for the ECWBA winter survival trophy. 

I did peek in 5 hives.  In four (4) hives the cluster was in the top brood box and in one (1) it was in the bottom box. 

With the shortening daylight and colder temperatures all queens should have stopped laying.  Also, by this time most brood should have emerged.  All mites should therefore now be phoretic (not hidden inside the brood cells).  Therefore, next week I am planning on one last oxalic acid vapor treatment.  Based on most recommendations I have seen I will wait to the air temperature reaches 40F.  Above this temperature the cluster expands and lets the oxalic acid vapor reach the inner bees in the cluster.  Mite-free equals virus-free and bodes well for good hive winter survival.

My next and final task will be to add a spacer to the top of al hives to provide space for emergency sugar provisions.  I do this in December when I am sure the bees will be in a tight cluster.   After this last action I can only stand back and watch things unfold.   I try to not to get my expectations too high.  Back in the “good old days” (pre-varroa), winter hive losses averaged around 15% (85% survival), so if I get close to that I will be a happy beekeeper. 

Monday, October 21, 2019


Looking at the long range weather forecast it appears we will be getting repeated nights with temperatures below freezing (32F/0C) in the next two weeks.  This will trigger the field mice to begin looking for a warm winter home.  If you don't want your bee hive to become this home it is time to put on your mouse guards.  Over the course of a winter mice can do a lot of damage to a hive; chewed frames, destroyed foundation, urine smell, feces, etc.  A mouse guard can save you a lot of repair work and expense come spring.  At the same time you should also position your entrance reducer so its smallest opening is controlling the movement of the bees.

The mouse guard can simply be metal hardware cloth with a 1/4 inch size.  Larger sizes may permit a mouse to squeeze through.  Mesh sizes down to 5 holes per inch can be used.  Anything smaller, such as 6 or 8 holes per inch may prevent movement of the bees through the mesh and should NOT be used.  A more expensive alternate is a metal mouse guard procured from your favorite bee equipment supplier.

Saturday, October 12, 2019


Next Saturday, October 19th, will be the ECWBA monthly club meeting.  It will be held at the Caestecker Public Library in Green Lake.  Official start time is 9:30am although many members arrive around 9:00am for informal discussions. Honey tasting will be one activity.  Winter preparedness will be another.  See you there.

ONE LAST TIME by beekeeper Fred

This will be the last time this blog will talk about varroa control in 2019.  By this time you should know that good varroa control is critical to good winter survival.  

Here is a link with two videos about using oxalic acid in late October.  Personally, I would not use utilize oxalic acid dribble this late in the year since the cold oxalic acid/water solution could chill the bees.  Since I had seen brood in early October I plan my last treatment to be in early November.


Friday, October 11, 2019


At ECWBA meetings all year long we have harped on keeping varroa levels down.   Now is the time for the payoff.  The following report shows how low varroa levels also keep the Deformed Wing Virus infection levels low.  The result will be good winter survival.  We hope you did your due diligence and performed your mite control in late July/early August.  

Monday, October 7, 2019


Sustainable—from sustain—to keep going, prolong, to hold up under

What is sustainable beekeeping?  Having a sustainable beekeeping operation can be considered from several viewpoints.  Probably, the first is financial.  Does the value of your honey harvest offset the cost of producing it?  Second, are you perpetually buying replacement stock or are you able to sustain your operation by making splits to replace your losses. 

A sustainable operation has the added benefit of not importing and more rapidly spreading the bee parasites ( ie varroa, hive beetles, etc) and viruses known to be spread during the annual almond pollination.  In addition, by only using Wisconsin bees, you will be helping develop a localized bee that is adapted to the american midwestern environment.   The many subspecies of the European honeybee evolved as the European honeybee adapted to local conditions.  The same evo;ution would occur here if allowed.    The weather and plant environment of Wisconsin is distinctly different from sources of queen bees (ie. California, Texas, Georgia, etc.).  Wisconsin (ie the Midwest) would naturally evolve its own locally adapted bee if not continually swamped out by the package bee genetics.

Most hobbyist beekeepers quit the hobby because their bees do not make it through winter and they must purchase replacements every spring.  It is a known fact that overwintered bees will usually produce more honey than new packages or nucs.  The hobbyist utilizing packages or nucs therefore starts at a disadvantage in trying to make the hobby pay or even break even.  Also, nothing is more discouraging than seeing your bees die during the winter.  Since probably 80% of winter losses are due to varroa and the related viruses, the first step to sustainability is to copy the varroa control practices of a successful beekeeper.  Presently, there are only two ways to control mites.  Chemical control (natural or synthetic) or by interrupting the mite’s reproductive cycle (See the March 1, 2018 blog article on natural mite control).  Both methods work.  Choose one method and apply it religiously.  If you don’t your bees will die and you will probably give up beekeeping after a few years of buying replacement bees.    Although there are designer bees (VSH, mite biters, Minnesota hygentic, etc.) none of these has been shown to control mites sufficiently to prevent winter colony demise without additional interventions.

Once you master the art of controlling mites and getting your bees through winter.  These “survivor” bees will be more in sync with their Wisconsin environment.  When you continually buy new bees from out of state (mainly California and the southern US) you are importing bees that a genetically better matched to our environment as mentioned above.  In addition, you can then also purchase specialty queens better suited to handle varroa and improve the genetics of your bees. 

Even under the best of conditions, all beekeepers lose bees throughout the year, but mainly during the winter.  So there is always a need for replacement stock.  The next step in sustainable beekeeping is to raise your own replacement stock.  Actually, the raising of replacement stock is easier than the effort to control varroa.  There are three basic methods of rearing your own replacement stock; 1) spring splits, 2) fall splits, and 3) summer nucs and 4)winter nucs. 


Now that you have mastered the process of getting your bees through the winter, it is time to raise your own replacement stock.  Beekeepers have traditionally “split” some of their stronger hives in late spring to raise replacements or make “increase”.   Splitting is simply the dividing of a hive into two or more parts with the aim of starting more hives or replacing deadouts.

The objective of the split is to end up with 2 or more new hives.    It is up to the individual beekeeper on how he/she wants to go about it.  The split can be a 50/50 affair or other ratios such as; 30/70 or 30/30/40 or 25/25/25/25.   A 50/50 split is the most commonly used.  Here the brood and honey frames are divided between two new hives evenly.  Obviously, only one hive ends up with the old queen.  A new queen can be installed in the queenless hive or the beekeeper can opt to allow the queenless hive to raise their own queen.  The 30/70 split is used if the beekeeper wants to increase the chances for a honey harvest from the stronger hive (70%).  The larger hive gets the queen and the smaller either a new queen or the option of them rearing a new queen on their own.  The other ratios (30/30/40 or 25/25/25/25) are used if the beekeeper’s goal is a longterm increase in their apiary.  The smaller new hives will take almost the entire summer to grow to full size and probably won’t produce a honey crop in the year of the split.  When planning to make splits be sure to get queens ordered with a delivery date that meets your needs.  

Hives that have survived winter have a natural tendency to swarm.  This can turn out to be a blessing for a beekeeper needing queens.  Instead of the need to repeatedly searching the hive to remove queen cells the beekeeper can instead remove the frames with the queen cells to provide survivor stock queens for splits.  Removing the queen cells will delay or prevent swarming of the original hive. 


Fall splits are usually done in early August.  The population of the hive to be split will be at its maximum before the autumn decline.  Fall splits are usually 50/50 affairs.  Some beekeepers split two hives in a 66/33 fashion.  The two 33% portions are combined.  The queenless portions of these splits are given a new young queen.  These hives will have a large population of forging bees with little to forage in the field.  Therefore, all fall splits are heavily fed sugar syrup immediately.  This gives those excess foragers some useful work to do.  The foragers will rapidly fill frames with syrup for the coming winter.  In addition the syrup will stimulate the hives to start another round of brood rearing to bring the population up to strength prior to winter. 


A nuc is simply a small 4 or 5 frame hive.  Nucs can be easily be started in the spring from a strong hive by simply taking 3 frames of brood containing eggs, uncapped and capped brood plus to undrawn frames of foundation.  Usually the nuc will raise its own queen.   This action has the added benefit of reducing the urge of the strong hive to swarm. 

Over the summer the beekeeper then has available a queen if one is needed for his other hives.  Also over the summer the nuc will expand.  This will provide the beekeeper with another full size hive by fall or maybe a nuc for overwintering.


As stated above all beekeepers lose hives over the winter.  So come spring the beekeepers are in need of replacement bees if they want to keep their operation of the same size.   Beekeepers that utilize the winter nuc concept have found that the winter nucs have the same or slightly better winter survival than their full size hives.  Here is how winter nucs work.

In early August when the hive population is at its peak, the 20 frame hive is split equally between two 5 over 5 nucs.  Each nuc gets half of the brood and half of the honey frames.  Each nuc also gets a new queen.  The new queen is the first advantage the winter nucs have to good survival.   Introduction of the new queen also introduces a short, late summer, brood break.  Brood breaks also result in an interruption of the varroa reproductive cycle.  That is the second plus.

Next the beekeeper is essentially wintering two hives instead of one hive.  Based on probabilities the beekeeper will come out ahead the next spring.  For example, if the beekeeper overwinters 4 hives at 75% survival rate the beekeeper will end up with 3 hives in the spring.  If the beekeeper instead makes 8 winter nucs from those 4 hives and again has 75% survival the beekeeper ends up with 6 hives!

From the example above you may end up with more nucs than you need or want.  Think PACKAGES!  Sell the excess to your local beekeepers who will be looking for packages.  Your nucs has the added benefit of being local overwintered stock that has shown it can survive a Wisconsin winter.

The odd thing about winter nucs is that their survival rate seems to be higher and also that they build up faster in the spring than many full-size hives.    It is speculated the young vigorous queens and smaller hive volume to warm during the spring brood buildup are the reasons for this performance.  From my limited experience with utilizing winter nucs, I can also say they appear less likely to swarm and produce an equal or larger honey crop than overwintered hives.  

The only thing better than getting your hives through winter is also raising your replacement stock from your own bees.  Doing that you graduate from a basic beehaver to a full fledged beekeeper who has a sustainable hobby.  This can then become a step along the path to having a varroa resistant Wisconsin/Midwest bee. 

Saturday, October 5, 2019


Here is a link on a discussion about the drawbacks of the design of the Langstroth hive.  No answers, but at least someone is thinking.



While retrieving a queen to aid a beekeeper with a queenless hive earlier this week I noted that this queen was still laying eggs.  I assume other hives in our area are about at the same stage.  If this queen quit laying the next day (unlikely) that would mean there will still be brood emerging in the fourth week of October.  Guess who will also still be emerging!  Our nemesis the varroa mite.

For that reason I will be treating my hives twice more with oxalic acid vapor; once in late October and again about the second week of November.  Oxalic acid vapor treatments reportedly kill 95% of phoretic mites.  I am banking on the November treatment being after the last brood has emerged and will clean up the hive, as far as varroa is concerned, prior to winter.  Even if there is still a little brood present the varroa mite levels will be lessened.  NOTE: Hives with Italian queens can still be raising brood through mid to late December.

Oxalic acid vapor is also relatively easy on the queen so it is highly unlikely the queen would be harmed.  I followed the same late season oxalic acid treatment last year and had 88% winter survival and therefore consider the risk to minimal.  As they say "pay your money and take your chances".

This week I am in process of removing any remaining feeders. However, I will probably keep a few on through Thursday.  Just prior to then we will have two "warm" days with temperatures getting to the low 60's F.   However, the days and nights are getting gradually colder.  I see the bees in some hives and nucs have been clustering overnight.  Syrup uptake is consequently greatly reduced.

Saturday, September 28, 2019


September is drawing to a close.  We have passed the fall equinox and now nights are getting longer than the days.  Forage, other than a small amount of asters, is about nonexistent.  Robbing of weak hives or hives with too large an entrance will be occurring.  What’s happening in your hives?

The bees will only be venturing forth for orientation flights or to gather propolis.  You will be seeing them sealing cracks and plugging entrances in preparation for winter.

The first week of October is a good time to assess the strength of your hives.  I do this by lifting the inner cover and counting the seams between frames that a filled with bees.  8-10 seams equates to a strong hive.  6-7 seams a medium hive.  5 or less is a weak hive that needs immediate attention.  Weak hives usually do not make it through the winter.  Two weak hives can be combined after eliminating one of the queens.  Weak hives can appear to be strong based on activity at the hive entrance.  But this is usually from robber bees entering and exiting.  That’s why it’s a good reason to lift the inner cover and actually see what is happening.  Weak hives this time of year can also indicate high varroa populations.  If you haven’t treated for mites, please do it now, so that your infected hive won’t contribute mites to your neighbor’s hives.   

The opportunity for feeding underweight hives is also drawing to a close.   If need be you should get the feeder in place.  Syrup can always be added to the feeder in the dark.   Although sugar syrup may not freeze during October the bees will be reluctant to ingest cold syrup.  Consequently, the syrup may be consumed only during a few hours on a warm afternoon.

The entrance reducer should presently be on and with the 4 inch opening regulating bees movement.  This helps maintain hive warmth and aids the dense of the aid against robbers and hornets.

Mouse guards should go on at about the time of the first frost.  The first frost will trigger the mice to begin looking for winter quarters.  Each week sees overnight temperatures drifting downwards.

The ratio of phoretic mites to bees is also rapidly increasing at this time of year as the hive reduces brood rearing and the hive population declines.  Mid to late October is a good time to do an oxalic vapor treatment or an Apiguard treatment.  Throughout the winter the fewer mites in the hive the better. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2019


For several weeks I have been placing bottles of mixed sugar syrup outside my side door.  Up until today these bottles have not attrached the attention of raccoons, hornets or bees.  Today the bees found this source of "nectar".  Before placing the jugs outside I rinse them with water to ensure they are not sticky.  These jugs are more than 1/4 mile from my hives. 

So a word to the wise.  Make sure your entrance reducers are installed; probably the 4 inch opening is OK.  There is evidently very little nectar available in the field.

Monday, September 16, 2019


The monthly ECWBA club meeting will be held this Saturday, September 21st at the Caestecker Public Library in Green Lake.   9:30AM is the scheduled start time.  However, you can arrive early and join others in exchanging ideas.


Its now mid-September.  It’s easy to see the days are getting shorter and nights are cooling down.  The amount of forage, both nectar and pollen, is rapidly declining.  The bees will soon be living on their stored honey.    The hive has also greatly cut back on brood rearing.  

In the last week of August, I removed most of the honey from my hives.  I did leave a few supers in place if they had full, but uncapped, cells in the hopes the bees will complete their work and dry and cap the honey cells.  These remaining honey supers will be removed the 3rd week of September.

During the first week of September a number of local beekeepers banded together for an extraction party.  In total we extracted honey to fill 34 5 gallon buckets.  We compared notes and a number of us reported that this year was our best ever as far as the honey harvest, while several others said it was their worst.  Go figure.  We are all located within 5 miles of each other.  Also, a few reported that many packages did not build properly and store a surplus.  Overwintered hives had a definite advantage.

This past week I did my second fall mite treatment.  The first, using formic acid pads, was done in late July.  This past week I did a one-time oxalic acid vapor treatment.  The oxalic acid treatment will be repeated in mid-October and early November.  By early October I am hoping even the Italian queens will have stopped brood rearing.   Thus making the final oxalic acid vapor treatment 100% effective and putting the hives in excellent shape for surviving winter.

As part of my goal to be a sustainable beekeeper (ie not having to buy package bees every spring) I  made up a large number of 5 over 5 double winter nucs.  Last year I had excellent (greater than 90%) survival of winter nucs.  If the same occurs this winter I will have strong spring nucs to replace any hive losses.  In late August and September, I have been feeding these winter nucs in order that the upper box will have at least 25 pounds of honey/sugar syrup.  NOTE: I will be writing another article about winter nucs later this winter. 

My observation from this past summer was that hives, begun with winter nucs, outperformed both overwintered hives and new packages.  There could be several reasons for this outcome.  During the late winter population build-up, the winter nucs have less cold air volume which could help with brood rearing.   The winter nucs all had young queens, while the overwintered hive queens were in their 2nd or 3rd winter.  The vigor of a 1st year queen cannot be ignored.  Finally, the hives started with winter nucs seemed to not swarm while many overwintered hives swarmed.   Hives that swarmed usually had 0 or 1 super of honey.  Overwintered hives yielded 2 to 3 supers of honey.  Hives started from winter nucs yielded 2 to 4 supers.  This last observation may be a fluke.  I will continue to track the performance of winter nucs hives in the future.  

My queen rearing and mating efforts ended in late August.  I am in the process of combining the mating nucs with other hives or winter nucs.  

Several non-performing (ie no honey for the summer) hives had their queens replaced.  

What’s ahead for the remainder of September and October?

-If not done already I will be downsizing the entrance reducer to the 4 inch opening.

-Next week I will be removing the remaining honey supers. 

-Next I will evaluate each hive.  Does it need feeding?  Is it queenright?  Hives with little honey stores will be fed.  Hives not queen right will be combined with other stronger hives.

-The wax and propolis buildup on queen excluders will be removed prior to storage.  Do NOT leave a queen excluder in the hive.  It may trap the queen below the excluder when the cluster has moved above it.

-Any unused equipment will be inspected, repaired and painted prior to storage so that it will be ready for use next spring.

-Mouse guards and hive wrap will not be installed until early November. 

Sunday, August 25, 2019

END OF AUGUST by beekeeper Fred

August is winding down.  If you haven’t completed your mite treatments, you are putting your hives in danger for fall or winter failure.  Git er done!  This can’t be stressed enough!

I completed my mite treatments with formic acid pads the last week of July.  However, I will be following up with oxalic acid vapor treatments in mid-September, mid-October and early November.   Overkill?  Maybe, but this process netted me 88% survival last winter. 

I just completed removal of the honey supers; well most of them.  Because this August was wetter and cooler than normal, I am finding uncapped honey in the top super.  These top supers I am leaving in place and will be doing a second round of honey super removal in the second half of September.  Even though its late in August there seems to be a honey flow occurring; maybe a rarely occurring goldenrod flow.  Hopefully by the end of September the honey will be capped.  If not, I will use the honey for making mead before the honey begins uncontrolled fermenting and turns into honey vinegar.


With the honey supers removed you will need to assess each hive on its ability to make it through winter.  First, verify the hive is queenright.  If not, either requeen the hive or combine the hive with another weak hive.    If it is queenright, is the population strong enough to make it through winter?  To evaluate the hive partially lift, by tilting the upper brood chamber from the lower brood chamber.  Look in the gap.  The bees should be between the frame gaps of at least seven (7) of the ten (10) frames on both the lower and upper brood boxes.  At this time, also evaluate the weight of the upper brood chamber.  The upper brood chamber should weigh approximately 80 to 90 pounds and be almost entirely honey.  If underweight now is the time to feed the hive 2 to 1 sugar syrup or as an alternate high fructose corn syrup.   Feeding will initiate additional brood rearing and may increase the population to an acceptable level.  Or if you have a strong hive you could steal a frame of capped brood and move it to the weak hive.   See the Nature’s Nectar blog (naturesnectar.blogspot.com/) for more on feeding

A hint on evaluating the weight of the upper brood chambers.  First pull the frames and verify they are honey packed; except for maybe the center 1 or 2 frames.  Each filled frame weighs roughly 10 pounds.  Replace the frames.  Now lift the brood chamber.  Remember the feeling of the full box.  Lower the box back into place. Now as an alternate, just tilt the upper brood chamber.  You only need to lift on the front or side of the box.  You will be only lifting half of the box weight.  Remember this feeling.  From then on you can evaluate the boxes by this method.  It’s a lot easier on your back!  

Those of you utilizing 8 frame boxes or medium boxes will need to make your own guidelines.  But you will still need roughly 80-90 pounds of honey for the hive to s.fely make it through a Wisconsin winter.   Our ECWBA President targets for a full upper brood chamber and one full medium honey super.

If needed, feed your hives now while the weather is still warm.  First, the bees will not drink cold syrup.  Second, it takes time for the bees to evaporate the water out of the syrup and raise its sugar concentration to 80% as in honey.  Third, with cooler weather the bees will go into cluster at night and will not be moving the syrup from the feeder to the comb thus greatly slowing the process.   September is the time for feeding.  October temperatures may be too low.  

After the honey harvest I install an entrance reducer.  If there are no yellow jacket hornets present, I utilize the four inch wide opening.  If hornets are present, I use the one inch wide opening.   We may still get hot days in September.  You may need to increase the one inch opening to four inches in order to allow the bees to cool the hive.  

Winter is still a long way off.  DO NOT place hive wraps or BeeCozy’s on the hive yet. 

Thursday, August 22, 2019


The honey harvesting season is drawing to a close.  One of the associated tasks is to clean the beeswax and propolis off the queen excluders.  The following method works with steel excluders.  DO NOT TRY THIS WITH PLASTIC EXCLUDERS.

Beeswax melts at the relatively low temperature of 140F.  By using a propane torch the beeswax rapidly melts without causing harm to the steel excluder.  I was able to clean up 4 excluders in about 5 minutes.  

 Typical beeswax coated queen excluder. 
 Propane torch. 
Same excluder after cleaning. 

Plastic excluders can be cleaned in the dead of winter.  The beeswax gets brittle at cold temperature, but the plastic remains flexible.  Simply set the excluders outdoors overnight.  In the morning flex the excluder and the brittle wax should flake right off.  

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

MEETING REMINDER--This Saturday, August 17th

There will be a club meeting at the Rushford Meadery this Saturday, August 17th, at 9:30AM. There will be a short discussion period and then we will extract the frames of honey from the two club hives.  If you want to extract your honey afterwards please contact Pam to get your needs on the schedule.  

Tuesday, July 30, 2019


Yesterday and today I have been treating my hives with FormicPro.   I also specifically choose this week because of the milder temperatures, which slow the formic acid vapor release. Usually the bees just buzz a little louder when the pads are put in and give the pads a wide berth.  Yesterday I saw an unusual reaction.  About 15 minutes after I treated a hive it seemed that all of the bees exited the hive and then formed a beard beneath the outer cover.  Its now been 24 hours and the majority still haven't gone back in.  I've treated about 40 hives in the last two days and no other hive reacted this way.  

UPDATE--The bees went back in the hive after 3 days.  A week later I checked to verify if the queen was OK.  She wasn't in the hive.  In fact there was no eggs, uncapped or capped brood in the hive.  That means this hive had gone queenless at least 3 weeks ago; prior to the formic acid treatment.  Maybe since the bees were queenless they had no reluctance to abandon the queen in the hive.  


July is winding down and August will soon arrive in central Wisconsin.  Typically, average temperatures will be at their highest of the year and rainfall at its lowest in August.

All beekeeping is a local event and in my area the honey flow has essentially stopped.  In the last two weeks of July I have not had to add a single honey super in my apiary.   In previous years I had always felt the honey flow was 95% complete by about July 15th.   This year appears to be no different.  Since I had to temporarily remove my honey supers while applying formic acid pads to my hives during the last week of July, I also took that opportunity to record the amount of honey present in those honey supers.  I will be comparing those values with the amount of honey I obtain at the end of August when I will be removing my honey supers for processing.   I will report on the additional honey, if any, I obtain in September.   As I said all beekeeping is local and you may get different results.  Some areas in the ECWBA area have purple loosestrife which provides a good nectar flow in August.  This invasive species has not reached my area yet.  At best the bees will probably just break even during the month of August; consuming as much as they bring in.

Follow this link to see how the honey flow has dwindled to nothing in the Minneapolis area. 

If you attend our club meetings or read the letters from our club president then you know that August, September and October are the most critical time in getting your hives ready for winter.  Mite levels MUST be knocked down in late July or early August so that the nurse bees can be relatively mite and virus free.  These bees can then raise disease free winter bees (fat bees).   Weather predictions for early August look to be acceptable for the use of formic acid for mite control.  Get it done!  If using other mite treatments make sure you remove your honey first.

After you complete your mite treatments then you need to evaluate the condition of each hive for its ability to survive winter.  Is it queenright?  Formic acid mite treatments are known to kill a small percentage of queens.  Also, many beekeepers neglect to inspect their hives while the honey supers are installed.  Verify there are both eggs and uncapped brood about 3 weeks after the formic acid treatment, which signifies there is a queen present in the hive.

Is the hives population sufficiently large?  Ideally, if you look between the top and bottom brood chambers you should see bees between every frame.  This is the time to combine two weak hives if needed.

Is there enough honey in the hive for winter?  The upper brood chamber should weigh roughly 90 lbs.  Visually, as a minimum, the 3 outer frames (six total) should be solid honey.  If not, feed the hive 2 to 1 sugar syrup until they will take no more.   Feeding needs to be done early in the fall.  The bees need to process the syrup and convert it to honey like (>80%) sugar concentrations.  This takes time and warm weather.  Wait too long and your hive may not be able to process the syrup.  Try to get this done before the end of September.  By October temperatures will limit the processing of syrup to only a few hours per day.

Watch your hives entrances in August and September.  With the nectar dearth that normally occurs at this time robbing may happen.  Robbing screens or downsizing the entrance width may be necessary.

Some beekeepers arbitrarily replace queens in the fall.  Young queens have a higher winter survival rate and also have a stronger spring buildup.