Sunday, April 26, 2020


Finally two warm days in a row.  Several ECWBA members took advantage of the nice weather to clean out the club hives and install nucleus colonies (nucs).  The UV light in sunshine was killing any COVID19 virus spores that might have been present out in the clean country.

Many hands make the job go fast.  Roger Manock, Fred Ransome and Gerard Schubert quickly cleaned out the deadouts.  Although Gerard was operating the camera in this shot, he also dug in and got his hands dirty with the rest of us.  We even kept socially distant. 

The two hives with syrup feeders in place are all set to grow.  

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Mid-April in the Flying Squirrel Apiary

Beekeeping is always full of surprises! We had a few warm sunny days and then back into the deep freeze.  However, as of this writing no hives or nucs succumbed to this hopefully last bout with winter.

On those few days where we were getting into the high 50’s I was doing a cursory inspection of the hives and nucs by simply raising the inner cover and quickly peeking in to assess hive strength. As normal there was a big variation in strength; from about 6 frames of bees to the entire box boiling over.

To strengthen some of the winter nucs I was transferring full frames of bees and brood from the strongest hives to the weakest nucs. While doing this I was already seeing capped drone cells and a few active drones. Based on the few drones I was seeing swarming will probably not occur before mid-May.  But remember beekeeping is full of surprises.

One surprise was a hive where 50% of the bees are drones. Very unusual. I think the queen’s supply of sperm had run out and she was only laying drone eggs. If we get a warmer day I will try to assess the situation further. Since I don’t have a replacement queen this hive will probably just dwindle away.

Surprise number two. I have been supplementing the food supply of my winter nucs by giving them 1:1 syrup via a quart mason jar. A racoon has found this bounty and has removing the jars and drinking the syrup three nights running. I have had to temporarily stop the feeding while I try to live trap the racoon. So far, the racoon is winning. Luckily, he is not damaging the nucs and the bees have not minded the 3 inch hole in their roof.  

What’s ahead?  

When we get into the 60’s I will be scraping the bottom boards. Then I will do some more bee and brood transfers between strong and weak hives. This is called leveling. It suppresses the swarming urge of the strong hives and strengthens the weaker hives.

I hope to start queen grafting if we can get a few 60 degree days in a row.  By the time this several week process is complete there should be mature drones available for mating.  Then I just need to pray for warm sunny days for mating flights.  Mated queens may be available mid-May if all goes well.

I always get the urge to put on honey supers near the end of April. This year I will fight that urge and not add the supers until I see the bees making fresh white wax on the outer frames of the brood boxes.  This means they are busy filling the comb with honey. Adding the honey supers too early lets the bees follow their normal instinct, which is to place the honey directly above the brood nest. Forcing them to put the honey into the brood box outside frames ensures a good honey supply for next winter. The only danger is that if there is an early and strong honey flow they may start filling the brood nest area itself, which can induce swarming.  Knowing when to add the honey supers is part of the “art” of beekeeping.

Happy beekeeping. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2020


Here are the winter survival statistics of a few ECWBA members that responded.

Back in an early 2019 ECWBA meeting the club distributed four different varroa mite control methods that had been used by club members and had successfully (in relative terms) controlled mites and limited winter losses.  Another year has passed so we surveyed a number of club members who had implemented these recommendations and have tallied up the results.

Beekeepers A, B, and C used the mix of formic and oxalic acid treatments (Method 2 below) and roughly followed the recommended process.  Beekeeper A had 88% hive and winter nuc survival.  Beekeeper B had 88% hive and nuc survival.  Beekeeper C had 85% hive and winter nuc survival. 

Beekeepers D and E used the oxalic only treatments (Method 1 below) and roughly followed the recommended process.  Beekeeper D had 100% survival of hives.  Beekeeper E did not fare as well and had only about 20% survival.  Critical to the use of oxalic acid is that it must be applied 3 times one week apart in order to be effective.  Beekeeper E had reduced the 3 applications to only 2 and paid the price.  

Beekeeper F used the formic acid and Apiguard treatment mix (Method 4 below).  Beekeeper F had 64% winter hive survival.  Digging in a little it turned out the Apiguard treatment is a 2 part treatment and must be done in warm weather.  Due to cold weather the 2nd treatment did not get applied and Beekeeper F apparently paid the price.  

No one apparently used Method 3 below.

It must be remembered that in pre-varroa/virus days normal winter survival ranged from 85 to 90%, so some losses can always be expected. 

Every beekeeper marches to his own drummer.  But it appears the 2019 ECWBA recommendations if followed will yield good winter survival.  Shown below is a reprint of those recommendations. 


At ECWBA meetings we frequently are asked “Tell me how to treat for mites”.  Here are four recommended courses of action.  We have run these four methods through Randy Oliver’s Varroa model and all four should control the mites sufficiently to get your hives through the year. This will prevent winter collapse.  While the spring (April) treatments are not absolutely necessary they will lower the mite and virus levels during the spring buildup.  Using any of these four methods will prevent a mite level buildup from year to year. 

Method 1—Vaporized Oxalic Acid only

This should be the lowest cost method (ignoring the cost of the vaporizer) but is also the most labor intensive.  Oxalic acid treatments are also known to be kinder to the queen.  NOTE: Applying oxalic acid vapor while honey supers are on is not EPA approved.

                -3 oxalic treatments a week apart beginning April 1st

                -Repeat beginning June 1st

                -Repeat beginning August 1st

                -Repeat beginning October 1st

Method 2-Oxalic acid/formic acid mix

Rotating the oxalic and formic treatments hopefully avoids a buildup of tolerance in the mites.  Formic acid is hard on queens, especially during extremely hot weather.  Try to apply formic acid when the initial four days of the treatment period are cooler.    Formic acid treatments are allowed while the honey supers are present. NOTE: Applying oxalic acid while honey supers are on is not approved by the EPA.

                -2 oxalic treatments a week apart beginning April 1st

-A ½ strength Formic acid treatment about June 1st.  A full dose could be used, but increases chances of losing a queen for not a big benefit.  

                -A full strength formic acid treatment about August 1st to 15th

                -A single oxalic treatment about October 15th

Method 3-Oxalic acid/Apiguard mix

Rotating the oxalic and Apiguard treatments hopefully avoids a buildup of tolerance in the mites.  Apiguard is not to be applied while your honey super are on.  The thymol in Apiguard will be absorbed by the honey; making it inedible.   NOTE: Applying oxalic acid while honey supers are on is not approved by the EPA.

                -2 oxalic treatments a week apart beginning April 1st

                -3 oxalic treatments a week apart beginning June 1st

                -3 oxalic treatments a week apart beginning August 1st

                -An Apiguard treatment beginning September 15th

Method 4-Formic acid/Apiguard mix

NOTE: Apiguard can not be applied while honey supers are in place.  The thymol in Apiguard will contaminate the honey; making it inedible.

                -1/2 formic acid about June 15th

                -Full dose formic acid about August 15th

Sunday, April 12, 2020


Without our monthly club meeting we have not been able to compare winter survival statistics and the mite control methods used by various members.  As a substitute Gerard and Fred would like all members to send their winter survival statistics ending March 31st, 2020 to:  Also please send in your mite control method including type(s) of mite control, date(s) applied, etc.  We will then try to analyze the data and provide a best practices recommendation that we believe will provide the best survival for next winter.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020


Other than they both like honey, why viruses, of course.  Many of the lessons we are hearing about the COVID19 virus are also applicable to our bees.  

Humans get the Flu and Covid19.  Bees get Deformed Wing Virus, Black Queen Cell virus, several bee paralysis viruses and others.

Some human viruses (various flus) have vaccines; other don’t (COVID19).  No vaccines are available for any of the bee viruses and probably none will ever be developed.  Propolis is thought to provide some protection. 

Spread of viruses in humans can be slowed by practicing social distancing.

Spread of viruses within a hive is aided by the inherent proximity of the bees to each other.  The added factor of mites spreading viruses from bee to bee can be a lethal combination.  Drones tend to drift between hives and can also spread viruses.  Spread of viruses between hives from drone and worker bee drifting can be greatly reduced by increased hive spacing.  Beekeepers can help the bees practice social distancing by increasing the space between hives.  In the wild, bees typically have about ½ mile separation!  Tom Seeley recommends a separation distance of 300 feet, but anything more than the typical 6 feet separation used by most beekeepers helps slow drifting.  We are all guilty of having hives spaced too closely together.   Beekeepers have chosen convenience over protection.

Of biggest concern are the vast holding yards that occur in California prior to distribution of hives throughout the almond groves.   The holding yards have thousands of closely packed hives.  A lot of drifting of both drones and workers occurs.  Any viruses soon get spread throughout the entire holding yard.  Remind you of New York and COVID19? 

After exchanging viruses in the holding yard cesspool, the bees first go to the almond groves to perform the pollination.  Then many of these hives are broken down into packages and given a new queen.   Come spring these packages are sent throughout the country.   Not an ideal situation and, as a consequence, many new package hives have a multitude of viruses and simply do not make it through winter.  The viral load is just too great.  One could see the demise of a hive in winter as good thing in that the viruses die along with the bees and can no longer be spread.

What can a beekeeper do?  First, increase the spacing between hives.   Second, stop buying package bees where the bees are sourced from bees used for industrial pollination hives.  This will slow the introduction of current and new viruses into your apiary.  Besides, buying package bees every year is a sure way to having a money losing beekeeping operation.  Third, take care of the hives that you have.  Learn mite monitoring and control techniques to get your bees through winter.   Fourth, raise nucs or extra hives every year to provide yourself with stock to replace your losses.  By doing this you are not importing viruses every year from the pollination holding yards.   The satisfaction, you realize from raising your bees and having a sustainable operation, will more than pay you back for your initial investment in nuc boxes or extra hives.

Although anecdotal I am aware of several beekeepers that through the use of mite resistant stock, use of nucs and not buying packages have been able to stop all mite treatments and still have minimal winter losees.  In one case I know of a beekeeper that has been treatment free for 7 years by following these principles.

ECWBA members should remember my offer for a FREE Purdue mite biter queen to any member building or purchasing a nuc box.  This is in hopes of starting you down this path. 

Friday, April 3, 2020


If you would like to take part in the annual Bee Informed Partnership survey follow the link show below.  This survey is intended to better understand bee losses and the management techniques of those who have good winter survival.

Thursday, April 2, 2020


Beautiful day today, but still not warm enough for hive insections.  Maybe just a little peek under the inner cover to see if your hive is thriving, struggling or dead.  Our April ECWBA meeting has been canceled due to COVIT19, but you can read about how to perform spring hive inspections by following this link.