Sunday, March 29, 2020


Finally, sun and a few warm days in the 50s.  We seem to have turned the corner from winter to spring.  The snow has disappeared!  I am seeing a few bees up in the maples gathering pollen.  It’s time for some beekeeping!

But before jumping into the joys of working with the bees it is time to do a review of what occurred in the previous winter.  The first step in that process is to analyze the deadouts.  My apiaries lost 8 hives.  One loss occurred last October and appeared to be from becoming queenless and then being robbed out; no evidence of varroa.   Three (3) exhibited the symptoms of a SMS bacterial infection.  Two were obvious cases of starvation.  Two were indeterminate.  Have you analyzed your deadouts?

March 31st also is the end of a beekeeper’s winter and is the time to calculate winter survival statistics for the last time.  My hive survival worked out to 85% and nuc survival to 86%.  Hive survival by queen types was:  Purdue Mite Biter-91%, Saskatraz-86%, Georgia ltaians-50%, miscellaneous queen types (mutts, carnis, MH)-83%.    However, I expect to lose several more hives and nucs in April as some hives that seem to have made through winter just slowly dwindle away.   These spring losses are probably due to old queens that just can’t shift into the high egg laying mode again. 

The big unanswered question is what were the prime contributors to the good results: mild winter weather, good mite control, queen types?  Unfortunately, I don’t have a good answer for this.  I do know my apiaries have a larger percentage of mite resistant queens than most other apiaries.  The statistics reported above show the mite resistant queen types had higher survival.  Also, my mite control process is slightly different (I think slightly more severe) than that used by others.  But short of running more scientifically controlled tests I can’t isolate the primary factors.   At any rate I will be using the same mite control process next winter and continue to increase the percentage of mite resistant queens in my apiary.   I have no control over the weather.

The high survival rate of both hives and winter nucs has allowed my beekeeping operation to be classed as a “sustainable” for the first time.  In other words, I will be making NO purchases of packages this spring to replace winter losses.  Can I repeat this next winter?  Time will tell.

On to beekeeping!

Probably the first tasks in your apiary is removal of mouse guards and winter wrap and cleaning out of the deadouts.   While doing this its also possible to do a preliminary cleaning of the bottom board using a hooked rod.  Be sure to reinstall the entrance reducer on its smallest setting.

With the warmer weather tree pollen will be available.  When this happens, the bees will forego any pollen substitute in preference for the real thing.  Real pollen is preferential to the manmade substitute, so by mid April there is no need to give the bees pollen patties.

Although warmer, nectar is still not available in any substantial volume.  Some beekeepers give their hives a shot of 1 to 1 sugar syrup to promote brood rearing.  Don’t overdo it; one (1) gallon per hive is sufficient.  If given too much syrup the bees will fill the brood nest area, which will slow or prevent the population buildup needed before the natural nectar flow starts in late May.   Without a large workforce the bees will gather less nectar for themselves and you.

If we get a 60F or warmer day in April, it’s time to verify the hives are queenright and raising brood.  If you encounter a weak or lagging hive a frame of bees and brood can be moved from a strong hive to the weaker hive.  This leveling or equalizing aids the weak hive and may also prevent a strong hive from swarming.   Unfortunately, the weather prediction for the next two weeks does not show any 60F or warmer weather.   For that reason, you should also not perform any hive reversals until warmer weather arrives. 

It’s still too cool to disassemble hives.  Doing so may chill the eggs and brood and result in killing them.  It’s better to wait for shirt sleeve weather.  

For those of you getting packages or nucs in  April, plan ahead and get the hive(s) set up before the packages or nucs arrive.   


Follow the link to an interesting article.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020


Due to covid virus restrictions the March 21st ECWBA meeting in Green Lake is canceled.

Monday, March 16, 2020


At the last ECWBA meeting a short presentation on nuc boxes was given.   This link shows another good use for a nuc box.  The spring build-up of bees tends to be faster in a nuc box than a full size hive.

Saturday, March 14, 2020


My anticipation of the coming beekeeping season is building as the snow disappears and on every slightly warm day that I see the bees out flying.  But we are still weeks away from getting into our hives for a more detailed check.  The stronger hives are already building in population.  Weaker hives are deciding whether they will recover or dwindle way.  But due to the low temperatures, there isn’t anything we beekeepers can do but observe. 

I just checked my hives and nucs.  87% of hives are alive so far.  86% of nucs are alive.  I suspect several hives and nucs will still dwindle away by the end of April.  But overall, I am a happy beekeeper.  For two years running I seem to have defeated varroa and the associated viruses.     It appears I have graduated to a sustainable beekeeper and don’t need to shell out big bucks to buy packages to continue this challenging hobby.  What is the saying?  Pride cometh before a fall.  But at least for now that won’t happen until next winter; meanwhile I can enjoy a summer of beekeeping. 

Last week I quickly popped open the outer and inner covers and put in a half of a pollen patty.  Any hive or nuc that had consumed all its emergency sugar was also given a piece of sugar disc.  Better safe than sorry. 

During these inspection trips I noted that there must be a skunk in the area.  These pesky critters pulled out the entrance reducer on the one hive which I had not installed a mouse guard and were trying to eat bees.   With the bees still in cluster I do not think much damage was done. 

At the end of March, I will be removing the mouse guards and the wrapping from a few exposed hives where I added protection against north winds.  The entrance reducer will remain in the 1 inch setting. 

I will also be analyzing and cleaning the deadouts.  However, initial observations of several deadouts are that they probably died from the SMS (Seratia Marcens Sacaria) bacterial infection.  This bacterial infection is common in Wisconsin.  Symptoms are that infected bees break away from the cluster and die.  The dead bees (piles of them) are frequently found between the inner and outer covers.  The cluster then gets so small that it can not generate enough heat to survive. 

If you haven’t ordered packages by now, you may be out of luck.  Maybe a friend with a strong hive will aid you with a walkaway split. 

Sunday, March 8, 2020


Hopefully your bees were flying today as temperatures got up to about 58F. A day like this should inspire you about the start of another beekeeping season.  If you didn't see much activity either your hive did not make it through winter or are in an area exposed to the wind.  I have not seen any activity at the maples or willow yet; so these bees are still eating their winter stores.

 Typical cluster of bees around the upper entrance on my survivor hives. 
Activity at a few winter nucs.  I only wish all nucs were doing as well as this set. 

FIRST POLLEN??? submitted by beekeeper Gerard

Witch hazel blossoms are open but no bees to be seen today.  They're crazy busy at the Ultrabee feeders and chicken coop.  Nice to see them out and about.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

MARCH 2020

February is now down in the record books.  For us central Wisconsin beekeepers weather conditions were not too bad; only two below zero nights in February.  However, these two nights were hard enough on my bees to take out two more hives and two more nucs.  A quick check of two showed extremely small clusters which probably could not generate enough heat to make it.   My hive and nuc survival percentages at this point are now down to 88 and 86% respectively.    This is slightly lower than last winter at this time.   Of course, further losses may occur until spring is finally here.   I should be thankful for this high survival rate, but any loss hurts.  On the bright side, I can look forward to chasing swarms in a few months. 

The high survival rate indicates to me that my varroa mite control methodology is working.  I had used the same process for the past two years.   One oxalic vapor treatment in early April, a 50% formic acid treatment in mid-June, a 100% formic treatment late July/early August, followed by single oxalic acid vapor treatments in September, October and November.  These last three oxalic treatments were to knock down migrating mites resulting from robbing or mite bombs.  This year I plan to skip the April oxalic treatment on 50% of my hives to see if this change makes a difference.   

Speaking of spring, the long term forecast shows that daily highs will creep up into the mid 40’s and even the low 50’s in the next two weeks.  Soon we will begin seeing the bees searching for tree pollen.  Silver maple and pussy willow are usually the first available pollen sources.

But the nights will still be dropping to below freezing.  Even so, the hives are now rearing brood in earnest.  To do this they must warm up the brood nest to 92F.  This requires honey or sugar to fuel the heater bees.  During the warmth of the afternoon the bees will be able to scour the hive looking for honey.  However, at night they will again go into cluster over the brood.   Make sure your bees do not run short of fuel and starve.  I will be adding a sugar disc to all hives one more time in March.  At the same time, I will also insert a ¼ or ½ patty of pollen or pollen substitute.   Consider that a package of bees or a nuc costs more than $120,  so the small cost of the sugar and pollen patties are cheap insurance to prevent starvation.   Once tree pollen is available the bees will ignore your offering of the pollen patty.

There is still one more month to go in the beekeeper’s winter, which runs to the end of March.  Although you are getting anxious to check out your hives do NOT perform any inspections yet.  The maximum that you should do is to quickly raise the inner cover to see if you hive is alive or dead.  Pulling a frame to inspect for brood will expose the brood to cold air and kill it.  If alive, is the cluster large enough in size for a strong spring buildup?  If dead or extremely undersize, now is the time to get replacement bees on order.  If the cluster is enormous you could also begin planning for a spring split; be it a walk away split or adding a queen.  Do you need to purchase or build more equipment?  Remember the 6P’s; “Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance”.