Friday, March 29, 2019

SPRING IS HERE! by beekeeper Fred

March has drawn to a close and SPRING is officially here.  Last week Mother Nature was partially cooperating and provided us with a few days with a high in the 50’s and sun.  The survivor bees are out doing orientation flights and searching for pollen.  A few bees were seen returning with pollen from the maple and pussy willow trees.

I went out at the end of March and did a final survey of my hives concerning winter survival.  The accepted period for winter survival measurements is from October 1st thru March 31st.   But be forewarned that it is not uncommon for some hives to simply dwindle away even with the warmer weather.  My hive survival rate was 88.6%.  Even my experiment with wintering over nucs was successful; there the survival rate was 91.6%.  The combined survival rate being 89.4%.  I am a happy beekeeper.   

As discussed in a previous blog article, this past 2018-2019 winter was slightly more severe than the 2017-2018 winter when all of us had poor winter survival.  I had ended up with miserable 40% hive survival for the 2018-2019 winter and 0% winter nuc survival.  What did I do different?  Heavier fall feeding, but also more attention at controlling varroa throughout the summer and fall.  I would aggressive varroa control as the primary factor for the higher survival.

 Beekeepers Gerard, Jon and Grandpa Jack are also reporting good survival; 83%, 77.7% and 85.7% survival respectively.  They also had practiced aggressive mite control last year which we presented during last December’s club meeting.  Each of us used slightly different control methods.  It appears we were all successful especially considering that normal winter survival was about 80 to 90% prior to varroa.  We will continue discussing mite control at future ECWBA club meetings.

My apiary had three (3) queens types going into winter; Russians, Ankle Biters and Saskatraz.  The survival rates of the different queen types were all similar; with a range of 83 to 90%.  Given good mite control, queen type appears to not make much of difference.   Even last year’s package queens (all Saskatraz) had excellent winter survival.  I guess I can no longer blame “package queens” for my previous low survival rates.

One last item on winter survival.  Two of my hives were in buildings with an entrance through the wall.  I consider these hives “wrapped”.  These two hives died.  The remainder of my hives were “unwrapped”.    The “unwrapped” hive survival rate was 94%!  Of course, I have positioned the hives behind wind breaks so that they are not exposed to north or northwest winds.  

With April here what is next on the beekeeper’s agenda?  It always better to “be prepared”.

1)      Remove the mouse guards.  The entrance reducer opening can still be the one inch (1”) opening, but by the end of April can be opened to the four inch (4”) opening.  

2)      Clean out your deadouts.  Its better to do it before warm weather arrives and mold begins growing on the dead bees.  You need to complete it also before installing replacement bees.

3)      If you need packages or nucs to repopulate hives make sure to get them on order.  It may already be too late. 

4)      Early April is usually still too cold and you should NOT be poking around in your surviving hives.  However, on sunny days with temperatures in the 60’s it is OK to pop open the cover and assess of condition of the survivor hives.  Do not pull frames which could cause chilling and death the brood.  Yes, we should be seeing 60 degree days in April!

5)      If you suspect a hive is dwindling, then action is required.  In this case it will be necessary to pull frames to verify there is a queen.  Don’t be fooled by random drone brood from a laying worker.  Sometimes if there is a queen, the hive can be stimulated by adding a frame of bees and brood from a strong hive.  The added worker population and their warmth helps get them going.  If there are laying workers, the best course of action is usually to salvage what you can by combining the dwindling hive with another hive. 

6)      Get the hives ready for the new packages or nucs.  Clean the bottom boards, put feeders in place, scrape off old propolis, so you are not behind the curve when your new bees arrive.

7)      Install new packages as soon as possible.  Keep them supplied with 1 to 1 sugar syrup until the start of the honey flow.  A pollen patty may be necessary if the bees are not seen bringing in pollen or if the weather prevents foraging. 

8)      Stimulative feeding of overwintered hives is recommended using a 1 part sugar to 3 parts water.  This promotes earlier brood rearing to get the population up prior to the June primary nectar flow.  This syrup should be fed internally (don’t use external Boardman feeders) because night air temperatures are too cold and the bees will NOT utilize cold syrup. 

9)      For hives the survived the winter consider doing a mite treatment in early April.  This will reduce mites and viruses spread by the mites.  

10)   Reversal of the brood chambers of over wintered hives should be put off until the second half of April.  This would be a good time to also clean the bottom boards on surviving hives. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2019


The Wisconsin Honey Bee Breeders Association  (WHBBA) has provided a listing of honey bee queen producers located in Wisconsin.  This listing is shown on the Resources page of this blog.

The goal of the WHBBA is to locally produce queens that are adapted to Wisconsin's weather and mite resistant.  Typically Wisconsin bred queens will not be available until mid to late May because weather conditions do not permit queen rearing to begin until late April or early May.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019


Follow the link to a write up about how bee hive strength and wintering ability is greatly aided by diverse forage.  This isn't something very new, but the article puts are few statistical facts behind the results.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019


Club meeting this Saturday, March 23rd at the Caestecker Public Library in Green Lake.

This Thursday and Friday promise to be warm.  Check on the status of your hives.  The ECWBA has spared no expense and made up two winter survival traveling trophies (hope you won't be disappointed).  Share your survival rate and win!

At cost oxalic acid ($3 per pound) and Hive Alive will also be available.  Patty will also be bringing a random drawing door prize.  Saturday could be your lucky day!

Monday, March 18, 2019


I was one of about seven ECWBA members that attended the bee seminar in Wausau.  One guest speaker impressed me the most; Alex Zomchek.  Besides being an excellent public speaker, he seemed to drop little nuggets of important information that I think I should pass on to ECWBA members.  So here goes. 

One, commercial beekeepers only have 7-9% winter mortality.  Much higher than that they could not remain in business.  Commercially beekeepers actively manage their hives for both low varroa, but also high honey production. Only part of that success is due to their hives going south for the winter.

Two, overwintered hives have a typical spread of 1/3 strong, 1/3 OK and 1/3 weak.  Commercial beekeepers manage those hives in the spring to even things out.  Strong hives contribute bees and brood for strengthening their weak sisters.  This does not seem to weaken the strong hives, but definitely improves the weak hives. 

Three, 95% of the stored honey is usually gathered in the 40 day period of the main nectar flow which occurs in June through early July.    This confirms my own observations.  There may be a secondary flow in the fall, but it should be left for the bees.

Four, feed early in the fall.

Five, the spring population buildup is critically important to having the hive population peaking in time for the honey flow.  Population growth is triggered naturally by the start of availability of low sugar content nectar.  In our area, with its long winters, the population growth is not triggered soon enough for the hive to always be ready for the onset of the primary June nectar flow.  A larger honey crop can be attained by giving the bees an early spring stimulative feeding.  The stimulative feeding is not the usual the 1 part sugar to 1 part water sugar syrup we normally feed new packages, but a weaker syrup mixture such as 1 part sugar to 4 parts water.  This more closely matches sugar concentration of naturally occurring early spring nectars, such as bees utilizing maple sap, and stimulates brood production.

Six, with item five above in mind, what about new packages?  We usually can get packages in three time slots; early April, late April and early May.  Since time is critical in building up the hive population after package installation it would seem logical to avoid May package deliveries.  Early April has an increased odds of inclement (ie cold) weather and is a bigger gamble for the beekeeper, but the bees can usually be successfully installed even then.  If I remember several club members got the opportunity for a few packages in early April last year and successfully hived them.  (I was always surprised at hearing of Minnesota beekeepers getting early April packages.)  So, for me the obvious plan would be as a minimum to request late April bees in the future and would even try early April bees if I were more of a gambler.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Wednesday, March 13, 2019


Today there were geese winging their way north, sandhill cranes foraging in snow filled corn fields, and a few robins!  Drainage ditches and creeks are flowing. But the sap was not yet flowing up in a few maples I had tapped for maple syrup.  Can spring be far behind?  The moderating temperatures will definitely give the bees a break and promote brood rearing.

Remember the upcoming ECWBA club meeting on Saturday, March 23rd.  Normal place (Caestecker Public Library) and normal time (9:30AM to 11:30AM)

Next week it looks like we will be having a few days with sunny days and temperatures in the 50's.  It would be a good time to check your hive survival rates.  Survivor hives should be flying on the warm sunny afternoons.  Then you need to get replacement packages on order if required.  I am sure potential package sources will be discussed at the club meeting on the 23rd.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019


Many new beekeepers have high ideals and do not like the idea of controlling mites with chemicals; either natural or artificial.  By doing nothing these beekeepers will inevitably lose their bee colonies due to mite infestation.  We call these beekeepers the "Live or Let Die" crowd.  Usually after losing their bees for a few years in a row they drop out of beekeeping.

There is another path they could follow.  They could do what is called biotechnical control of mites, which keeps their populations at an tolerable level.  This methodology is labor intensive, but does yield acceptable results.  It involves drone trapping of mites, brood breaks and finally a fall split of the hive and overwintering the hives in double deep 5 frame nucs.  A beekeeper named Adrian Quiney in Hudson Wisconsin has been using this methodology for several years now with excellent results.  He regularly has 90+% winter survival of his nucs.  

Its a matter of harnessing your idealism and putting it into the extra labor needed to apply all three mite control methods.   Remember all beekeepers are simply trying to survive until the bees or beekeepers develop true mite resistant bees.  Note that mite resistant bees to date have only partially addressed the mite problem and are not a guarantee of success.

Here is link to him describing the biotechnical mite control at the 2017 Bee Seminar in Wausau, Wi.

You can also do a search while on YouTube for the name "Adrian Quiney".  The search will bring up numerous videos on the topic of overwintering 5 frame double deep nucs instead of the full size 10 frame double deep hives most of us use.  

Friday, March 1, 2019


March has arrived and the days are lengthening rapidly.  We currently are getting about 11 hours of daylight and this will grow past 12 hours by month end.  However, the weather forecast shows another bout of brutal below zero nights in the coming week, but nothing like the -30F nights of a few weeks ago.  We have already had 13 below zero nights this winter not counting those yet to occur.   The good news is that meteorological spring is only 20 days away!

I went out on Thursday (February 27th) to check on hive survival.  Since my end of January count, I have lost 2 hives.  This puts me at 91.4% survival with another month of winter yet to go.  However, one hive is sounding weaker and may not survive next week’s string of cold nights.  Surprisingly, 100% of the winter nucs are still buzzing.  

In March, maple pollen will make its appearance.  Weather permitting the bees will be high up in the maples gathering the pollen to raise the new brood.  Although pollen will be available there will be no nectar.  The bees will continue to be dependent on stored honey for nutrition and heat generation.  The need to feed and warm the brood will increase the amount of food they consume to about 12 pounds per month.

If the bees deplete the honey in close vicinity to the brood nest they may starve if cold temperatures are keeping them in a tight cluster.  Now is when emergency sugar, immediately above the cluster, can save your hive.   Hopefully you have paid heed to our suggestions to add emergency sugar. 

At this point you probably have a handle on your probable survival rate.  Its time to think about ordering packages.  See if you can combine your order with other club members.  There is usually a price break when 10 or more packages are ordered.  Also consider when you want to receive your packages.  Early packages have additional time to build their populations prior to the honey flow.  The downside of early packages is that you may be installing them during inclement weather.  Conversely, late packages will arrive when the weather is generally warmer, but there will be less time for the population to build and will probably produce less surplus honey.  The choice is yours.