Saturday, May 30, 2020


With the change in weather to sunshine and warmer temperatures the honey flow has started.  Make sure you have installed honey supers on all over wintered hives.  I have been seeing several filled frame on the stronger hives.  Of course, on new start up hives you should delay adding the honey supers until the bees have filled 80% of the upper brood box with brood or honey.

Although the dandelion bloom has waned honeysuckle and dutch clover are now making an appearance.  In my area the black locust trees have yet to start leafing out, so that flow will be delayed.  The black locust nectar flow can be huge or near zero; large variations from year to year. Basswood and other clover honey flows will be coming in turn.

With temperatures getting up to 80F it is time to remove the entrance reducers.

It can be very startling how quickly the hive population can build up.  Good queens can lay 1500 to 2000 eggs per day.  If the weather is right and the nurse bee work force sufficient to feed and warm the larvae, the hive population can double or triple in a month. Overcrowding and a good honey flow can trigger the urge to swarm.  Be on swarm watch through the end of June.  

Late April and June is also the prime time to rear queens.  Setting up a queenless nuc (similar to a walk away split) is a good way to increase your apiary size or to make a spare queen.  If they do not make a new queen you can always recombine the bee back into the original hive.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Odd swarm reported by ECWBA member

This is an odd swarming situation!  What do you think has happened?

I have two theories.  One, the hive did not stop feeding the queen soon enough and she's still too heavy to fly even a short distance to a nearby bush.  Two, did this queen have her wings clipped and therefore can't fly?  After our ECWBA beekeeper sorts this out she can inform us of what the real situation was.  

PS--Another thought has crossed my mind.  I see there are no honey supers.  has the entrance reducer also been mistakenly left in?  It could simply be a case of overcrowding and overheating.  

Thursday, May 21, 2020

IDENTIFYING A LAYING QUEEN submitted by Grandpa Jack

Grandpa Jack submitted this photo to help out newbie beekeepers find out if their queen is laying.  

There are many descriptions of what an egg looks like and to the new beekeeper its all very confusing.  Yesterday while I was going through one of my hives, I came across this frame and just couldn't pass it by without taking a picture.  The photo shows the relative size of the egg to the cell. 

While examining the frame for eggs, have the sun on your back and it makes the job much easier.

Saturday, May 16, 2020


Spring appears to finally have arrived!  Finally, a few days in the 70’s.  The bees are bringing in a little nectar; probably from the fields of dandelions and loads of pollen. 

The upper hive entrance stained yellow from all the pollen the bees are bringing in. 


I have installed honey supers on the strongest hives.  This was done for two reasons.  First to capture this early dandelion flow.  Second, I don’t want the bees to be storing nectar in the brood nest area.  When the bees plug up the brood nest it restricts the area in which the queen can lay, this may create an urge to swarm. 

So far, I have seen no swarm cells in the hive inspections I have been doing, but I have robbed every hive of at least three frames to set up mating nucs.  I did hear one club member has already had a hive swarm.

Following up on four weak hives I found 2 were queenless and 2 queenright.  On the weak queenright colonies, I transferred in 2 frames of bees and brood from strong colonies.  One of the queenless hives was combined with a winter nuc.  At this time, I have no plan or resources for the 2nd queenless hive and it will probably slowly dwindle away.

Utilizing winter nucs I was able to replace all winter losses without buying a package or nuc!  This is the first time in about 8 years that I didn’t need to buy bees in the spring.  Good mite control and use of winter nucs made this happen.   Not having to buy bees in the spring makes the difference between having a costly hobby versus actually having a little cash income!  All beekeepers should incorporate winter nucs in their beekeeping plans.  PS—I see that the Marathon County Beekeepers seminar has been rescheduled for November.  One of the topics will be “winter nucs” presented by Adrian Quinney. 

My efforts on the queen rearing front were not as successful.  Although I was successful in raising 24 virgin queens in late April the weather just was not cooperating in early May.  None of the 24 have been able to mate so far.  I am hoping this latest warm spell will do the trick, but also know that as the virgin queens age they are less likely to mate.  Rain and cold weather kept both the queens and drones at home.  As they say, “that’s farming”.  Nothing to do but start another batch of queens in hopes that the weather will cooperate next time. 

Right now, I am patiently waiting for two new breeder queens; one a Purdue Mite Biter and a second from feral stock.  Both of these lines exhibit enhanced mite biting characteristics.   When I receive the breeder queens I intend to try the “48 hour cell” method of raising queens.   With this method a grafted cell is left in the queenless starter box for 48 hours.  Individual cells are them transferred to mating nucs where the bees will, in theory, finish and cap the cell.  Reportedly “48 hour cells” can easily be transported long distances if kept at roughly room temperature.   This would be an excellent method at minimal cost to distribute superior genetics to all club members that own a mating nuc.    

Friday, May 15, 2020


“Keeping Bees Alive  Sustainable Beekeeping Essentials” by Lawrence Connor

This book compiles in one place the steps needed to become a sustainable beekeeper.  At ECWBA club meeting we briefly discuss the actions needed to attain that goal.  But here they are provided in more a more complete manner with detailed explanations.

Its obvious that the biggest problem for all ECWBA members is keeping their bee alive.  This book provides excellent guidance on methods for you to become a sustainable beekeeper. 

Some of the highlights are:

1)      Only use mite tolerant queens; such as VSH, Saskatraz, Mite Biters, Minnesota Hygienic,or Russians.

2)      Use locally raised mite tolerant queens that have adapted to loca conditions.

3)      Winter survival is greatly aided by queen types, locally adapted bees and negatively impacted  by use of package bees.

4)      Make your own increase nucs with mite tolerant queens.  Don’t buy packages. 

5)      48 hour queen cells can be used to inexpensively distribute mite tolerant genetics.

I recommend all ECWBA members looking to improve their beekeeping skills read this book.  It is available on Amazon or from Wiswas Press for roughly $40.  My copy will be available to ECWBA members to pass around.   

Wednesday, May 13, 2020


Next week it appears temperatures may reach the low 80's.  We can only hope!  But those nice temperatures also bring along the distinct possibility of swarming.

Swarming can or will occur from strong overwintered hives.  If when you open the top of your hive and see overcrowded bees just about boiling out then the hive conditions are right and the bees are probably just biding their time for the weather and nectar conditions to be right.  Right now we are having a good dandelion nectar flow and next week the temperatures will be right also.  

The amount of honey a hive gathers through the summer is proportional to the hive population.  When you lose 50% of the worker bees you also lose that ability to gather nectar.  Sometimes beekeepers whine that the swarm took all of the honey with them.  No true.  They only take about 5 pounds.  What really happens is the hive loses its work force that produces the surplus honey we covet.   It takes at least 6 weeks before the workforce recovers.  By then our honey flow is usually complete.

So what can you do?

1) Removing swarm queen cells will delay swarming, but just for about eight (8) days; the time it will take the hive to raise and cap a new batch of queen larvae.  So cutting out swarm cells is a delaying tactic only.

2) You can do a split.  Simply separate the upper and lower brood boxes.  Whichever box has the queen will continue to grow.  The box without the queen will set about raising a new queen.  Its about a three week process to get a new laying queen.  The chance of success is 60 to 70%.  If you find queen cells put them all in the queenless part of the split.

3) You can remove frames of bees and brood and start nucs.  This will relieve overcrowding and may prevent swarming.

4) Do nothing and see your hive swarm with the hopes of catching the swarm from a nearby tree while their scouts are looking for a new home.

5) You can also put out a swarm trap.  It should be at least 100 yards from you home apiary.

Chasing swarms has its own rewards.  Happy beekeeping.

Sunday, May 10, 2020


Many of you have just bought expensive bee packages or nucs this spring.  This video shows an alternative.  A side benefit is that locally sourced bees usually have a higher winter survival rate than purchased packages.  This video is from 150 miles north of us in Hudson, Wisconsin.

Although too late for this spring you can begin planning for next winter.

Friday, May 1, 2020


What’s happening at the Flying Squirrel Apiary?

I ignored the advice of a recent club newsletter to check that all overwintered hives have sufficient honey to tide them over to the beginning of the honey flow.  I noticed a decline in flight activity from one hive.  Opening it, I noted a 6 inch diameter cluster of dead bees.  Inside the cluster were 3 frames of capped brood.  Outside the cluster absolutely zero honey throughout the hive.  More attention to detail could have saved that hive. 

If there is any question on adequate food I provide the colony with one gallon of 1 to 1 sugar syrup. 

I had previously reported on a hive that had 50% drones, which is odd for this time of year.  In the recent warm spell, I looked at this hive in detail.  There was one capped emergency queen cell of doubtful vitality.  No worker brood.  Plenty of drone brood, but in the random distribution normally seen with laying workers.  I will attempt to re-queen the hive by inserting several queen cells, but don’t have a lot of confidence this will succeed.   I also detected what seemed to be a second queenless hive when writing this article.  Immediate action is needed to prevent them become hopelessly queenless. 

About April 19th I began seeing dandelions.  Although not a big source of nectar for our bees, the dandelions is a sign that spring is here.  

On the warmer days where temperature got above 60F I was performing three actions.  First, I simply verified hives are queenright.  Next, I lift the two brood chambers off the bottom board to permit a quick scrapping of all dead bees from the board.  At that time, I also determine if the brood chambers need to be reversed.  If I see the queen is laying in both boxes, I leave things alone.  If the queen is only laying in the upper brood box, I do the reversal.  Bees always want to move upward.  If there is no open comb above the brood nest the bees don’t always use the option to move into the lower brood box and instead decide the hive needs to swarm.  This gets amplified if there is a strong honey flow and the bees are filling the lower brood box with honey. 

Although conditions were not ideal, I made my first attempt at queen grafting April 18th.   About 60% of the queen cells were capped.  On April 28th I candled the cells and it appears about 80% seemed viable.  Not bad for this early in the season.  On April 30th I was starting to see movement in about 25% of the cells.  By the morning of May 1st of the initial quantity of 24 cells, 13 queens had emerged, 7 the queens were moving in the cells, one (1) still looked as a probable and 3 duds.   Now the scramble starts to get the new queens into mating nucs.   This time of year, it takes about 3 frames of bees in the nuc to keep the new queens warm if we get a cold night.  Hopefully, mature drones will be available and the weather will be favorable, when these queens are ready to mate about May 6th.  Time will tell.  Raising queens this early in the spring is always a gamble. 

Things to accomplish in May.

1)      If you haven’t done it already clean your queen excluders of excess wax and propolis.  A heavily propolized excluder may inhibit the movement of bees from the brood chamber to the honey supers. 

2)      Honey supers and excluders for overwintered hives will get installed in mid-May.  Consulting my notes, the honey flow doesn’t really begin in our area until late May.  Minor sources are available prior to that and extremely strong hives can begin storing honey as early as mid-May, but that is an exception.

3)      Make sure you have inspected and repaired any damaged honey super frames beforehand.

4)      If this is your first year at beekeeping the honey frames will not have drawn comb on them.  In that case the bees are even more reluctant to cross the queen excluder barrier.  It is recommended that you not install the excluder until the bees have started to draw comb.

5)      The tendency of the bees is to store honey ABOVE the brood chamber.  They are sometimes reluctant to refill the side honey frames around the brood nest.  Experienced beekeepers do not add the honey supers until they see that new white wax on the honey frames around the brood chamber.  The new white wax is an indication the bees are actively filling the outside frames. 

6)      Change the entrance excluder to the 4 inch setting. 

7)      Order supplies if you intend to perform a June mite knockdown treatment. 
If you have hives in which the bee population is exploding you may want to consider: a) doing a split or b) removing bees and brood to start a nuc or c) removing bees and brood to aid a weaker hive or d) add another brood chamber box until you figure your plan of action.  Failure to take action will probably result in the hive swarming.  Although swarming isn’t inherently bad you will be losing about 50% of the hive’s work force and also the hive’s queen.  This will set the hive back at least a month because of the time it takes the hive to raise a new queen and get the work force back up to snuff.   By the time the hive recovers the major honey flow in our area could be over.  Also the hive will only successfully re-queen itself about 60% of the time.  Note to new beekeepers: A new hive started from a package or nuc rarely swarms in its first year.