Cover Story archive

February 2015

Dealing With Dead-Outs


A beehive that withstands the cold winter months has tremendous potential. In spring, over-wintered hives can be split, re-queened or managed to produce significant quantities of honey. Establishing the conditions that enable a hive to survive the winter and flourish in spring is one of the many gratifying aspects of beekeeping. So it serves to reason that finding “dead-out” hives can be a bitter discouragement. Dead-outs are just that; hives in which the entire bee colony has died. Losing a hive is frustrating and expensive. However, to an observant beekeeper, a dead-out hive can be as educational as a growing hive in spring. Here we will identify some common causes of dead-out hives and explain how to decipher the clues they leave behind. While dealing with dead-outs could be considered the “other side” of beekeeping, understanding their causes and altering our practices accordingly might help us limit their frequency in the future.

How can a beekeeper tell if a hive is dead when frigid temperatures keep bees from flying? First, check the snow or ground cover near the entrance to the hive. Fresh dead bees on the ground can be a sign that the hive is still alive. Listen carefully at the hive entrance. Some beekeepers use a stethoscope placed against the outside of the hive. If the hive lacks the reassuring hum of live bees, put on a veil and pop the lid. Watch for live bees and listen with your head close to the top bars of the frames. A sudden appearance of live bees, an urgent buzzing or a whiff of alarm pheromone may indicate that the hive is alive and well, and a simple removal of dead bees from the entrance so live bees can enter and exit is all that is needed. Now is a great time to check for honey stores while the hive is open, adding reserve honey frames or other emergency feed as needed.

What if all the bees in the hive are dead? Passionate beekeepers have been known to grieve for a moment, considering all the time, energy and money invested into that mass of dead insects. Finding the queen curled up and dead is a major bummer. But, before planning a miniature state funeral for the deceased royalty—or pondering other hobbies to pursue—resolve not to be overly discouraged by a dead-out. Instead of dwelling on the loss, shift the focus to any hives that survived the winter and try to identify differences between the healthy hives and the dead-out hive. As disappointing as a dead-out hive can be, there is much to learn from one.

Conduct a post-mortem analysis of your dead-out hive. First, note the location of the main cluster of dead bees. Is it high or low in the hive? Check the weight of each box. Do some boxes contain honey stores? If there is a large cluster of bees and plenty of honey in the hive, it may indicate that the bees simply starved within inches of stored honey, unable to move due to cold or unwilling to separate themselves from the frames of brood for which they were caring. This scenario is highly frustrating for the conscientious beekeeper who manages the bees effectively throughout the year, but still loses the entire colony over the winter. Do not stop there. Keep looking.

Pay close attention to the bottom board. Are there signs of mice? Look for feces or chewed nesting material. Examine the bottom board mess for varroa mites. If you see thousands of them, you have likely found the cause of the bees’ demise or at least the catalyst for the development of a fatal

Sort through the dead bees carefully with eyes peeled for small hive beetles and wax moth larvae. A healthy, full sized hive can typically handle a mild infestation of hive beetles, but too many beetles and their larvae can decimate a smaller hive. Look for wax moth larvae or their feces (little black specks) and for their webbings on the comb. If wax moth larvae or small hive beetles have overtaken a hive, it is usually because something else weakened the bee population allowing the beetles, moths and their larvae to take ownership.

Do the bees have deformed bodies? Varroa mites can cause deformities. Do their wings show signs of Deformed Wing Virus? Are there K-winged bees—aptly named because their wings are shaped like the letter “K”? This could indicate a tracheal mite infestation.
Keep an eye out for the queen among the dead bees. Is she the marked original or has she been replaced? If she is a new one, is she ...


 January 2015

Chemical Synergies: When 1 + 1 Does Not Equal 2


The agricultural environment is a source of chemical exposure for bees, with pesticides, their degradation products, and other ingredients in pesticide products (adjuvants, solvents, and other chemicals added to formulated products) dominating the scene. Because multiple pesticide products are applied to a crop, honey bees foraging on or near the crop will typically bring multiple chemicals back to the hive in pollen, nectar and/or water. In-hive miticides are also part of the picture. Indeed, most analyses of hive materials (pollen, wax, bees, honey) taken from beehives in agricultural areas show that multiple agricultural and miticidal chemicals are present.1, 2, 3
As we think about the potential effects of these chemicals on bee health, it becomes clear that we need to know not only how the individual chemicals affect bees, but also whether the mixture alters the toxicity of individual components. There are three possibilities:

  1. Additive: Toxicity is simply the sum of the toxicity across the individual components;
  2. Antagonistic: The mixture is less toxic than the sum of its components would suggest; and
  3. Synergistic: The mixture is more toxic than the sum of its components would indicate.

In this Curious Beekeeper article, we’ll explore the occurrence of synergistic effects, where 1 + 1 is greater than 2.

The Bouncer
It might sound impossible, but there is a firm basis in science for the synergistic effects observed for mixtures of chemicals. It all has to do with how insects (and humans) detoxify chemicals. An analogy is illustrative here.

You’ve seen the cartoon--a bad guy walks into the room and starts to make trouble. But not to fear! The big bouncer guy by the door walks over and picks him up by the scruff of the neck and tosses him bodily out the door. The bad guy gets a black eye and bruises in the process and heads off into the distance. But if the bouncer is on vacation, the bad guy can do whatever he pleases without consequences.

This scenario has much in common with the system used by both humans and insects to detoxify chemicals. In this case, the bad guy is a toxic chemical and the bouncer is a group of enzymes that react with the toxic substances. The chemicals are transformed in the process of interaction with the enzymes, which reduces chemical toxicity and facilitates excretion of the toxic substance. But if the enzyme system is disabled by a synergist, it’s as if the bouncer is on vacation. The toxic chemical is not degraded or excreted, and toxic effects are observed at a much lower dose than without the synergizing chemical.

How Detoxification Works
The most common family of enzymes responsible for detoxifying foreign chemicals in biological systems is the cytochrome P450 group (CYP).4 There are other enzymes involved, but because the CYP group is the primary system for detoxification in insects, we’ll focus on it here.

A set of genes codes for the CYP proteins, and different species and even different individuals have a different mix of CYP variants, with marked variability in the ability to detoxify chemicals. This genetic basis of detoxification accounts for much of the variability in the sensitivity of both humans and insects to chemical substances. It also explains why some people can drink a cup of coffee at midnight and go right to sleep while others have to cut caffeine intake early in the day if they hope to get a wink of sleep.

In insects, CYP enzymes have been studied extensively for their role in the development of resistance to insecticides.5, 6 Insects with CYP enzymes that rapidly degrade an insecticide are resistant to its effects, survive the insecticide treatment, and live to reproduce and pass these resistant genes on to their offspring. In the context of beekeeping, fluvalinate-resistant Varroa mites have genes that produce CYP that is very efficient at detoxifying fluvalinate, so it has little effect on the mites.

Exposure to a chemical may have one of several possible effects on the CYP system. The primary ones are:

  1. Induction and activation: CYP enzyme activity is enhanced in the presence of the chemical, and the result is a substance that is more toxic than the starting chemical. An example here is the transformation of an organophosphorus insecticide like chlorpyrifos (Dursban®) to its much more toxic oxon form that is then further metabolized and excreted.
  2. Induction and deactivation: CYP enzyme activity is enhanced in the presence of the chemical and the result is a species that is less toxic than the starting chemical. The adaptation of insects to eating toxic plants is based in their ability to degrade toxic substances in the plant to benign ones.
  3. Inhibition: CYP enzyme activity is suppressed, allowing toxic chemicals to persist in the ...


December 2014

Western Apicultural Society (WAS) Meets in Missoula, Montana

Part 1: 2nd International Workshop on Hive and Bee Monitoring


The 37th edition of the Western Apicultural Society of North America (WAS) met at the University of Montana, September 18-20, 2014. With the current President, Dr. Jerry Bromenshenk, at the helm I attended knowing that this would, as the organizers promised, “not be your grandfather’s bee conference.” It did not disappoint. “The Future...brought to you by WAS (and some other good people.)” followed on the heels of Dr. Bromenshenk’s 2nd International Workshop on Hive and Bee Monitoring.

For those not informed about Dr. Bromenshenk, now formally retired as a faculty member at the University of Montana, his employment history is worth examining. He is arguably the only faculty member in the bee research arena at a major university to have supported himself on what is called euphemistically, “soft money.” In short, he has had to earn his living by writing grants, rather than the more usual way faculty members are paid, via a taxpayer-supported salary. In order to do this he has explored some unconventional funding sources, including the Department of Energy, the Defense Department via the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)1, the US Army USA-CEHR, and the US Army NVESD laboratories. Research funded by these agencies resulted in patented technologies and methods including Smart Hives (electronic hives), laser (lidar) mappingof honey bee distributions, acoustic diagnostics for colony health and chemical detection, and training of honey bees to find land mines. Many of these were on display at the workshop.

Dr. Bromenshenk’s résumé also includes pioneering study using honey bees as environmental sentinels (monitors) via citizen-based science projects and establishing honey bee based protocols of ecological assessments for use by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Finally, he is a major player in Bee Alert Technology2, which is attempting to integrate new technologies into the craft of managing honey bees.

The workshop on hive monitoring brought together a group of highly trained folks interested in finding the keys to looking at honey bee behavior and colony management without physically manipulating the colony. Physical inspection often inserts error into the observations. It featured the activities of a number of different entities, many using a traditional technology, the scale hive, in innovative ways.

Leading off was Jerry Hayes, ex-bee inspector in Florida and now Monsanto Corporation’s Honey Bee Health Lead at the corporation’s newly-formed BioDirect Business Unit. He discussed how scale hives are used in the company’s research on honey bee health in a number of areas. This was followed by Alwyn Smith of Paladin Engineering, also describing using scale hives (so-called “smart hives”) in relation to research by Bayer Corporation’s newly-formed Bee Care Center in North Carolina’s Research Triangle.3

Mr. Smith would be the first of several at the workshop to mention the obvious to attendees: “honey bees are not cows!” It’s relatively easy to do research on cattle, which can be corralled and closely observed throughout their life. Not so for honey bees that forage up to a mile radius from their colony with the majority of their activities hidden from view inside a wooden box.

The list of things that have to be looked at, according to Mr. Smith, include not only what he called “low hanging fruit” (weight, temperature, humidity), but also specialized activity, much more difficult to analyze. These include specific noises (acoustics), thermal outputs of both adults and brood, individual bee trips in and out of the colony (bee counting), and subtle effects of pheromones. Creative measurements of these can answer many of the perennial questions asked by beekeepers over the years according to Mr. Smith: Is the queen alive or dead? Where is the queen? When is the nectar flow? Where do workers go? What do they do? How healthy is a colony in general? Based on what parameters?

From my perspective, a star of the show at the workshop had to be the current monitoring efforts of an outfit calling itself “Arnia.” Arnia is the Italian word for beehive. This company was formed by Dr. Huw Evans and his wife with specific objectives as noted on the web site.4

The Arnia system sports a delightful user interface and marks the first commercially available, complete system to be marketed at relatively low cost to small-scale and backyard beekeepers. It is a complete system with a basic set of sensors (e.g., hive weight, temperature, relative humidity, bee sound) and cellular communications. It seeks to help answer numerous questions beekeepers might have. How many beekeepers, for example, would like to receive a text message notifying them that their supers are full, or a colony has gone queenless, needs winter feed, was knocked down or blown over, perhaps stolen?

Arnia’s monitoring efforts began by looking at acoustics for swarm control, but now include scale hives5, as well as information on brood nest temperature, and humidity. Arnia distinguishes itself over simpler hive-scale systems by collecting a huge amount of data remotely, in real time on a routine basis. This information reveals the “wisdom of the crowd,”6 which appears to mirror how humans, honey bees, and many other biological phenomena self-govern. The activity also fits with the idea of collecting what is being called “big data.”7

Arnia appeared to be the “gold standard” at the moment, as featured at the Missoula workshop, having the most advanced, commercially-available, single-hive system on display. However, others are currently in the pipeline and capacity is rapidly building. Initiatives not prominently featured at the event include those by commercial beekeeping supply outlets like Swienty and Mann Lake Supply, as well as Bee Alert Technology. The latter is targeting large-scale applications for beekeepers in the U.S.

An example of the use of the Arnia system was provided by Robert McCreery of the Dromore Beekeepers Association in Northern Ireland.8 This activity (Journeyman Hive Monitoring) is considered a cornerstone of “Strategy for the Sustainabiity of the Honey Bee,” a program of Ireland’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development9, which was initiated in 2011.10

Other activities mentioned by Mr. McCreery include a distributed pollinator study, categorizing pollen diversity and analyzing flowering times (phenology). Of utmost importance is its use in schools and educational institutions, as well as in the field of what is being called “citizen science,”11 where beekeepers themselves become an integral part of a research team.

Citizen Science Project

Citizen science was pioneered by Dr. Bromenshenk in his early studies using bees as environmental monitors of air quality in the Pacific Northwest. Dr. Wayne Esaias, recently retired from NASA’s Goddard Space Center discussed the origins of his citizen science project, which began in 2006, when he farmed out some hive scales to beekeepers around the U.S. Now called HoneyBeeNet12, this is reaching a network of beekeepers, that continues to actively gather data. The genesis of this initiative is spelled out in a NASA blog post13:

“Esaias, who works at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, has been studying this cycle of beehive yo dieting in the U.S., as he explains in the video above. By combining hive weight changes with space satellite data that reveal vegetation change on the ground, along with other data that go back to the 1920s, he has found that the timing of spring nectar flows has undergone extraordinary change. ‘Each year, the nectar flow comes about a half-day earlier on average,’ says Esaias. ‘In total, since the 1970s, it has moved forward by about month in Maryland.’ In an interesting demonstration of citizen science, Esaias has set up a network of amateur beekeepers —HoneyBeeNet— who use industrial-sized scales to weigh their hives each day.”

Since its beginnings, Dr. Esaias reported at the workshop, the HoneyBeeNet project has made great progress in analyzing what’s going on outside the hive. Important areas of interest include indirect climate impacts on plants providing nectar. He emphasized that “honey bee nectar flow” is what is being looked at, and not necessarily correlated with what many beekeepers call the “honey flow.”

Warming of the climate continues to be the focus of Dr. Esaias’ efforts, which have delivered some intriguing conclusions. The role of “invasive” species is now being looked at from different perspectives. Could these plants be a godsend if native species can’t survive in the region they are originally adapted to? A comparison of trees as major nectar plants in the northeast vs plants in other areas brings into focus regional differences in bee forage that must be taken into consideration when making honey bee management decisions.

Unfortunately, with the retirement of Dr. Esaias, the future of HoneyBeeNet is in doubt. It appears that at least some of this effort will be taken up by the University of Maryland’s sentinel hive project,14 which is using crowd funding. Potential citizen scientists are being asked to raise money to fund a pilot program of 10 Sentinel Hives with pollen and disease monitoring. Money raised will fund extra Sentinel Hives. This initiative is due to end in October, 2014, but if successful should continue the program.15

Hive Tracks
Another hive monitoring approach mentioned at the workshop that is currently in use is Hive Tracks. According to its web site,16 “Hive Tracks is a powerful computer application accessed through any Internet Browser. It can be used from a laptop, desktop, iPad, iPhone or other type of smart phone with Internet access.” The approach is similar to that of HoneyBeeNet in that bee and hive data is periodically collected in the bee yard and can be transferred via the Internet. Both Hive Tracks and HoneyBeeNet differ from Arnia in a crucial way; neither is real time, remote monitoring, relying instead on a beekeeper physically visiting the bee yard and collecting data from individual colonies.

The relative costs of the approaches discussed above are quite ...

 November 2014

Setting Up a Front Yard Stand


Did you ever think of setting up a front yard stand to sell honey? It hardly costs anything. It’s convenient. There’s no gas expense. It is great advertising. It could be a great strategy for selling quite a bit of honey. It will establish you as a beekeeper in the community. But before you go out there and build a stand, here are some things to consider.
   Are you on a well-travelled but not over-travelled street? It doesn’t have to be Main Street, but probably a side street with minimal traffic wouldn’t do. Yes, you will get a few neighbors to buy product, but that won’t be enough volume to make it worthwhile. A street that affords a steady traffic flow is best. Yet, the roadway isn’t so traffic-heavy that stopping will be an obstacle. Probably, this will be a two-lane roadway in a rural or suburban community.
   Do you have a space for cars to pull off? You don’t want to be a safety hazard, so you must have or create a path where a car can pull off alongside the road and park. It doesn’t have to be asphalted, but there should be clear demarcation where cars can park. If you have a berm at the edge of your property, then you will need to do some excavating. Making buyers pull into the driveway and then walk back to the honey stand will not satisfy your clientele. After all, the stand is all about convenience.
   Do you have an adequate supply of honey? According to Richard Lomba, of Pembroke, MA, who has a stand out front, the cardinal rule is you must have honey always available. He says, “There has to be product there—always. When someone stops at a stand and finds the cupboards empty, you made an angry customer. The person will probably never come back.” Customers used to stopping at a spot to pick up their honey want it to be there. To maintain a steady supply, Lomba maintains 18 hives. He says, “Someone who has only three or four hives probably won’t be able to keep it going. So there are some limits as to who should be doing this.”
On the other hand, two beekeepers could participate in the honey stand to insure a steady supply. And with a few calls, one often can get fellow area beekeepers to put in some honey. Of course, they would receive full compensation.
   Are you around your premises most days? You don’t have to be there all day, because, after all, it’s self-service. But going away periodically for a week or two without coverage is hard to do. It’s good to be there on a daily basis to check stock, to take in daily revenue, to move stock in or out during inclement weather, and to check on the stand generally. Of course, you could recruit a neighbor to be your store clerk, for liquid compensation.
   Are you willing to take an occasional hit? The self-serve idea is based on the honor system, and most people are honorable. But, every so often, someone steals a bottle without paying, or even worse, takes the can of money. Richard Lomba says, “It happens once in a blue moon. Yes, it’s aggravating, but since it happens so rarely, I live with the occasional theft.” What you must do, when the theft occurs is consider that the vast majority (99%) of customers are honorable and above-board. That helps.
   How will you deal with inclement weather? As long as the honey bottles are tight, rain will  ...

October 2014


Amitraz: Red Flags or Red Herrings?


A number of findings regarding the miticide amitraz (as well as the neonicotinoid insecticides) have come to my attention in recent months. The question is, are they red flags, or red herrings?


A Red Flag?
A couple of weeks ago a beekeeper emailed me a blog with explosive implications. It was written by Penn State entomologist Dr. David Biddinger for tree fruit growers, but may help us to connect the dots between beekeeper complaints of problems with agricultural insecticides (neonicotinoids specifically), beekeeper-applied amitraz, and colony and queen losses. He wrote:

The second special situation where spraying fungicides during bloom can cause problems is where the honey bee keepers are using the insecticide/miticide amitraz for control of varroa mites in the hive. Most tree fruit growers will remember amitraz as Mitac which was used heavily for pear psylla control in the past. This product was routinely used for synergizing organophosphate and pyrethroid insecticides in crops like cotton where key pests had developed resistance, because it shut down the enzymes insects used to detoxify pesticides. This raises concerns about amitraz being used to treat mites in honey bee hives. While it may be effective in controlling varroa mites now that they have quickly developed resistance to the organophosphate coumaphos and the pyrethroid fluvalinate, adding this synergist to a hive basically shuts off a bee’s immune system to pretty much any pesticide with which it later comes into contact.

Oh…my…gosh! Go ahead and read it again! Have beekeepers inadvertently been synergizing (multiplying) the negative effects of miticide residues and agricultural chemicals in hives by their applications of amitraz?
Note: This article is a condensed version of a much more detailed article available at my website.


Or a Red Herring?
Let me assure you, despite its faults, I am not writing this article to trash amitraz; indeed, I encouraged the manufacturer of Apivar® to bring that excellent product to market. In defense of amitraz, let me make perfectly clear that I know of a great many beekeepers who would likely not be in business today were it not for amitraz. And many of them have not suffered from exaggerated colony loss; indeed, some of them are major almond pollinators, as well as being suppliers of queens and packages to the rest of the industry. Based upon that on-the-ground evidence, one might be tempted to let amitraz off the hook, but upon closer look, the story grows more complex.
Amitraz has a long history of successful use as a varroacide. It was yet another Silver Bullet—a treatment or two a year kept mites under control, and the active ingredient didn’t show up in honey. Those in some European countries have used Taktic for decades, and a number of U.S. beekeepers have (illegally) applied it to their colonies since the 1990’s. But things are about to change in the U.S….

For those who haven’t heard, the registration of Taktic in the U.S. has been voluntarily withdrawn by the registrant (Fig. 1).

The loss of Taktic has the potential to seriously shake up the commercial bee industry. Any number of beekeepers have told me that they can’t imagine how they could stay in business without it. That statement has credibility when you consider that when Taktic was temporarily unavailable a couple of summers ago, that a number of beekeepers lacking a “Plan B” simply let their colonies go without treatment, often with disastrous results.

Practical consideration: on the other hand, the illegal use of Taktic has given those same beekeepers an unfair competitive advantage over those of us who stick with the more expensive registered treatments, yet must still compete with the scofflaws in the open market for pollination services and honey sales.

However, there is now an alternative and legal way to apply amitraz—in the form of Apivar® strips. Beekeepers used to fast-acting treatments with Taktic may need to adjust their mite management schedules due to the slower knock down of mites by Apivar. Apivar is designed to be an extended-release treatment that paralyzes the mites to the extent that they are unable to reproduce; the strips are designed for a full 42-56-day treatment. An additional benefit to the strips is that one avoids introducing the additional bee-toxic adjuvants present in the formulation of Taktic—Frazier found that “the miticide formulation Taktic was four times more orally toxic to adult honey bees than the respective active ingredient amitraz.”

Practical note: if you are used to applying Taktic in fall for a quick knock out of mites prior to the formation of the winter cluster, you may be disappointed by the slower results from Apivar. Research from Saskatchewan suggests that in areas in which winter comes on quickly, spring treatment may be the better option.

People put their trust in our governmental regulatory agencies to protect us from harmful foods, medicines, and pesticides. Few take the time to deeply investigate the potential down sides to exuberantly-advertised off-the-shelf medicines or treatments. But the truth is, that we beekeepers should practice due diligence by doing our homework about the things that we put into our hives.

The last thing that I wish to do is to be alarmist, but the rest of this article will deal with possible side effects from amitraz.

One thing that we’ve learned in recent years is about the “legacy effect” of miticide residues in our combs. One reason that beekeepers favor amitraz is that it is nearly insoluble in honey, and the small amount that does dissolve quickly breaks down, mainly into DMPF, which remains stable in honey for at least 45 days. Amitraz is far more soluble in beeswax, where it completely degrades within a day, also mainly into DMPF, which remains stable for a considerable period of time.

A Red Flag?
Although amitraz is considered to be “relatively non-toxic to bees,” chronic exposure of bees to its degradation product in the combs and honey allows for the distinct possibility of it exerting sublethal or behavioral effects upon the bees, or the possibility of synergizing the sublethal effects of other contaminants. So how prevalent is amitraz contamination of combs?

By the year 2003, commercial hives were already so contaminated by amitraz, that there was concern about varroa having developed resistance. Later in the decade, Mullin (2010) detected DMPF in fully 60% of beeswax samples and 31% of beebread samples. Even more recently, DMPF was the third most common pesticide residue in the 451 samples of beebread analyzed by the USDA National Survey from 2010 through January 2014 --present in 23% of samples, led only by the other miticides fluvalinate and coumaphos. By comparison, the neonicotinoids imidacloprid, thiamethoxam, clothianidin, and thiacloprid were found in only 2.9%, 2.4%, 2.2%, and 0.7% of samples, respectively.

Practical application: although one’s honey may test free of amitraz, in fact it is the DMPF that exerts its toxic action upon honey bees. Testing shows that DMPF is an extremely common contaminant of commercial combs.

Or a Red Herring?
So let’s do some math! Using the formula for the Daily Consumption Hazard that I proposed in a previous article, and using the published LD50 values for amitraz, I calculate that a bee consuming even the most highly contaminated pollen would only get a tiny fraction of the lethal dose. On the other hand, the contact dose that bees might get from rubbing against highly-contaminated comb might approach the range of lethality.

However, that doesn’t necessarily mean ...


September 2014

Choosing the Right Location for Your Apiary


An apiary is an assembly of one or more bee hives at a single location. I once believed that you could establish apiaries anywhere and that the bees would thrive and make honey by the bucket. Boy, was I wrong. I grew up in central Georgia and had only one apiary site during my early years. My grandfather was a dairy farmer and he was gracious enough to allow me to keep my bees on his farm. The site was great. I enjoyed many years of keeping bees and making honey. The apiary location was good for the bees, but it significantly skewed my view of beekeeping. When I began to teach about bees and beekeeping, I would scoff at people who would tell me that their bees were not making honey at the apiary site they chose. I always believed that they had this problem because they did not know how to keep bees. After all, bees make honey everywhere.

Then, I moved to High Springs, Florida. I was told, before moving to the area, that it was a difficult place to keep bees. Local beekeepers told me that bees survive just fine in the area, but that they do not make honey. Of course, since I knew everything, I believed the people just did not know what they were doing. I would keep bees in High Springs my way, and sit back and watch the honey come in by the gallon.

I failed to make any honey the first year I kept bees in High Springs. Surely, that was an anomaly, an unlucky twist of fate. Of course, it happened again the second year. I began to question my tactics. By the third year, I was convinced that one could not make palatable, surplus honey in the city I now call home. I had learned an important lesson. Not all apiary sites are created equal.

This article is about choosing the right apiary site to locate your bees. The characteristics beekeepers look for in apiaries vary by how they intend to use the apiary. For example, staging yards (apiaries where colonies are put temporarily for purposes other than pollinating crops and/or making honey) can just be large fields and relatively void of good forage for the bees. On the other hand, you have to put bees close to nectar-rich plants if you want to make honey. Regardless, all “good” apiary sites share common characteristics one must value in order to maximize colony production and beekeeper enjoyment of the craft. Just like in real estate, all that matters when choosing apiary sites is location, location, location.

Before discussing some “apiary essentials,” I want to note that I realize that beekeepers, especially hobbyist beekeepers, often have little choice when picking a good apiary location. Sometimes, your only option is your only option. There is nowhere else to go. However, there are good pointers to remember even when your options are limited.

20 Characteristics of a Good Apiary Location

1) There must be copious, quality pollen and nectar sources nearby (Figure 1). Honey bees thrive when floral resources abound. However, a plant does not necessarily produce quality nectar and/or pollen just because it blooms. Have you ever had tulip honey? Even if a given plant produces a lot of nectar, there must be enough of the plants around in order for the bees to make honey. I often get the comment that “I have a citrus tree in my yard and I do not get any citrus honey”: of course not. Bees have to forage from numerous citrus trees in order to make citrus honey. The same is true of whatever nectar source your bees are pursuing.

One also should be careful to believe the distance rule of foraging behavior. We have all read in books that bees will fly two to five miles from the nest in search of nectar and pollen. Though this is true, do not expect a crop of sourwood honey if there are five acres of sourwood four miles from your apiary. The best apiary sites are those located as close as possible to the quality forage resources.

Furthermore, a potential apiary site may yield honey, but it may not be palatable. For example, my bees make a super of wild cherry in February and one of Spanish needle in September. Neither honey is palatable to most humans. There is nothing else in my area the rest of the year except pine and oak trees (Figure 2). Neither are known to yield nectar that bees can use to make honey. My bees are able to sustain themselves on the cherry and Spanish needle honey, but they do not produce a marketable crop for me.

My advice here is simple: check with other beekeepers in your area to determine if the area has a history of providing major nectar flows and quality pollen. I find beekeeper advice quite valuable in these instances. At the end of the day, however, there is no substitute for giving the area a try. You really will not know if nectar and pollen resources abound if you do not place colonies there for some years. My rule of thumb is that I will give an area three years with five to ten hives before I consider it a resource desert.

2) There should be a source of clean water near the colonies. Bees need water to survive. They are going to forage for water at the nearest quality source, which always seems to be exactly where you do not want them to forage. Consequently, a convenient source of water should be available to the bees at all times during the year so that the bees will not congregate at swimming pools, pet watering bowls (Figure 3), or other watering sources where they may contact humans, birds, or domestic pets. Some sources of water that beekeepers can provide include: (1) a tub of water with wood floats to prevent the bees from drowning, (2) a faucet in the apiary that is left to drip steadily, or (3) filling Boardman entrance feeders (quart jars with holes in the lids) with water and placing them in the colony entrance (Figure 4). If using tubs of water, the water should be changed periodically to avoid stagnation and mosquito breeding.

3) Apiaries should be established away from where people or animals frequent. Most people are scared of bees. Some are allergic to bees. Nothing will kill your beekeeping hobby quicker than neighbors who are upset at you for allowing your bees to drink water from their pool. Most beekeepers adopt the “out of sight, out of mind” policy with locating their hives at a suitable apiary site. For practical reasons, and to promote public safety and reduce beekeeping liability, one should not site apiaries in proximity to tethered or confined animals, students, the elderly, general public, drivers on public roadways, or visitors where animal/bee and people/bee interactions may have a higher likelihood of occurring.

4) Apiaries should not be visible to vandals. There are two reasons to “hide” apiaries from others. The first we addressed in point 3 when we noted that bees can be a public safety issue in some circumstances. The second reason is that bee colonies can be the target of vandals. Colonies and colony equipment are stolen regularly. It is a good idea to keep your colonies out of site.

5) Apiaries must be easily accessible. I have traveled all around the world and seen people keep bees in the hardest possible places to access. I have seen colonies on roofs, in narrow mountain passes, in the thickest imaginable bushes, etc. I take the completely opposite approach. Beekeepers should be able to get to their bees easily. The access road should be navigable and not be prone to flooding. Apiaries should not be located in bushes or on the edge of steep grades. Of course, one should not make it easy for others to find and access your apiary. Yet, you should be able to access your bees when needed. I feel that you should be able to drive a truck and trailer to your bees and have enough room to turn the vehicle around easily.

6) It is a good idea to have a written agreement when locating apiaries on other peoples’ property. Beekeepers often need to locate apiaries on property owned by others. Commercial beekeepers do this all the time. Many hobby beekeepers I know, especially those living in subdivisions, also have to ...

August 2014

Beekeeping and Its Impact on World War II


Seventy years ago this past June 6, the world watched as Allied Forces invaded the beaches of Normandy, France to liberate the areas of Europe overrun by the Axis powers of Germany and Italy. The commemoration this year opened our eyes to the part that beekeepers and honey bees played in winning that war!
“Beekeepers?” you might ask. “What did bees and beekeepers have to do with the war?”
“Actually, quite a lot.” is the answer.

Since the Japanese occupied some of the countries where the United States had been purchasing part of their sugar supply, it was not available in abundance. Thus, honey was in great demand. Sugar was rationed and honey was a perfect substitute for a sweetener. It was also difficult to transport sugar to the United States across seas occupied by opposing forces.

The sugar rationing made it difficult for beekeepers who were often in need of additional sugar for supplemental feeding. According to the Illinois State Beekeepers’ Association bulletin of March-April, 1943, the North Central States Entomologists resolved (at their conference in March of 1943) that an additional fifteen pounds of sugar be allowed to beekeepers for feeding in addition to the fifteen pounds already available per hive. Carl E. Killion, secretary-treasurer of the North Central States Apiarists, submitted this resolution to the War Production Board and to the Food Production and Distribution Administration. Why was supplemental feeding needed? The honey crop either nearly or completely failed in the summer of 1942 in the north central states. The need to save and build up colonies to serve as pollinators and as producers of honey and beeswax was paramount.

The Department of Agriculture in Washington D.C. also placed honey under the commodity loan program to increase production since the honey industry was deemed ‘essential’ in wartime. In 1942, the industry was requested to make a 20% increase in production since both honey and beeswax were urgently needed. It was stated, “The individual beekeeper, debating the high wages of industry or the duty of service in the armed forces against the project of expanding his apiaries, must give thought to the future of the industry, accepting the hazards of weather and consequent crop failure, the shortage of bee range, the incidence of bee disease, and the menace of bees to the use of poisonous insecticides.”
Need For More Pollination

It was also necessary to increase all legume seeds for additional production of dairy and beef cattle forage. Thus, bees were needed to pollinate the alsike clover. In the early 1940s, yellow and white sweet clover were used to add nitrogen to the soil when corn was planted every couple of years. The legumes in the roots provided that nitrogen fixation and the flowers were wonderful forage for the bees. As a result, our armed forces were well fed. Today that same yellow and white sweet clover is deemed a ‘nuisance.’

Beekeepers Enlist or Get Drafted
Gene Killion was keeping 400 hives back in 1942, but enlisted in the Air Force. He was sent to Barrackpoor, India during the war where he flew the Aluminum Trail over the Hump into China from India. When asked if he had any experience with beekeeping in India, his reply was that he saw no Apis dorsata - the giant honey bee most common in India - in the two years he was there. Yet, he was able to provide much information about beekeeping back in the states during that time. His father, Carl E. Killion, was an advocate for the beekeeping industry during the war. He went to Washington D.C. with the Director of Agriculture to get that extra needed sugar for the beekeepers to feed their bees. He even wrote to D.C. to get two commercial beekeeper brothers from Illinois deferred. They were needed on the home front to produce the honey and pollinate the crops. They surely were not the only ones who were needed to keep agriculture functioning at home to feed both the armed services and the families ‘back home.’

The Dire Need For Wax
The War Production Board also listed over 350 uses for beeswax in wartime military operations and industries. Officials in Washington were concerned about whether there would be sufficient beeswax to supply the Army, Navy, and Air Force. The real ‘stock pile’ of beeswax was in the hands of the beekeepers in the United States and it was the government’s intent to enlist the aid of the beekeepers in collecting and supplying the needed wax. The goal, however, was not to devastate the hive, but to ...


July 2014

A Comparative Test of the Pollen Subs

Part 1 - Experimental Design and Execution


The growth and health of honey bee colonies is primarily dependent upon the availability of high-quality pollen. Pollen and its fermented form, beebread, is the colony’s primary source of protein, lipids, vitamins, minerals, and sterols.[1]
When there is a dearth of quality pollen, colonies suffer.[2] Broodrearing comes to a halt and the nurses may cannibalize eggs and larvae. Colonies stop growing or go downhill. Protein-starved colonies are unable to hold their own against parasites and pathogens; diseases set in. Inadequate protein nutrition in late summer and fall leads to poor wintering and colonies unable to make grade for almonds.

To mitigate the above problems during times of pollen dearth, beekeepers have long fed protein supplements (commonly called “pollen subs,” although none to date are truly complete substitutes for quality natural pollen). In recent years, successful beekeepers are spending more on pollen subs than ever before (I could not run a successful operation in my area without them). Due to this demand, a number of (ostensibly) improved pollen supplement formulas have recently come onto the market, but the formal testing of such[3] has been limited (and often involved those with a proprietary interest). So I decided to perform a Consumer Reports® type of test to find out how the various products compare.
It occurs to me that the reader may be interested in the sorts of actual details and problems encountered in the design and execution of field trials. So instead of presenting this as a typical dry scientific paper, I’m writing this article as an expanded version of my log book in order to show what sort of thought processes go into a trial, how things often don’t go as planned, how exciting seeing positive results can be, and the decisions that the researcher must make in presenting and interpreting the data. I’m then going to follow this article with additional recent studies that I’ve done related to bee nutrition (as I write this, I’ve already begun a follow up trial).

2013/14 Pollen Supplement Trial
Principal Investigator:
Randy Oliver, assisted by Eric and Ian Oliver

Funding sources: Independently funded by beekeeper donations to Special thanks to almond pollinators contracting with Joe Traynor of Scientific Ag Company, and beekeepers Jeff Becker and Ray Olivarez, Jr.
Experimental Objectives:

  1. To determine whether colonies can be built up for almonds in late summer and over the California winter on artificial diet (sugar and pollen sub) without substantial natural forage available; that is, can today’s formulations substitute for natural pollen?
  2. To rank the commercially-available pollen supplements by their ability to promote colony growth.
  3. To determine the overall cost of building 5-frame nucs on foundation to almond pollination strength.
  4. To compare the attractiveness and consumption rates of the various pollen supplement formulas.
  5. To determine the cost effectiveness of the various subs at growing colony populations.

Experimental Design and Considerations:

I designed this experiment as an “acid test” of pollen subs by forcing colonies to build up their populations during a time when natural sources of pollen are inadequate. Based upon my 35 years’ experience in the Sierra Foothills, that condition typically occurs from mid August through December, during which time colonies not given protein supplement go decidedly downhill.

Then I had to consider which size and strength of colonies to use for the trial. Full-size doubles, having already reached maximum strength, would be poor indicators of the nutritional utility of the pollen subs for “growing bees.” In addition, large hives might contain reserves of beebread that could add a variable, they are difficult to accurately grade for strength, and must be disturbed to put the patties in contact with the broodnest.[4] The Coloss BeeBook[5] suggests starting with colonies on the order of 5-frame nucs to allow for a robust comparison of the effects of the treatments on growth rates. This sounded good to me, and I thought that I’d add new combs of foundation in order to minimize the variables inherent in drawn combs, such as pesticide residues, pathogens, or existing beebread.
I’d start with well-established nucs headed by recently-mated queens (mated in the same nuc). I’d feed the colonies with pollen sub patties and sugar syrup[6] to encourage them to draw out and occupy the frames of foundation, aiming to grow them into double deep hives (the use of foundation would allow room for the storage of the necessary stimulative syrup over a long period of time).

I’d grade the colonies for strength (using standard “almond grading” of cluster size) at various time points to quantify colony strength, with the final grading at almond bloom in February.

In order to minimize variables, I’d feed all the pollen subs as 1-lb standard patties in waxed paper. Syrup would be fed via inverted half-gallon feeder jars.

I wanted to test a variety of pollen subs from various manufacturers and a wide range of formulations, and came up with the following list (in alphabetical order, with their abbreviated names; formulations in Appendix):

  1. BeePro: from Mann Lake, as an example of a typical soy/yeast formulation long used by beekeepers.[7]
  2. Experimental yeast (Yeast): Suggested by Mann Lake to test a yeast-based formulation recommended by beekeepers in the Midwest.
  3. FeedBee: A Canadian formulation sold in the U.S. and worldwide.
  4. “Homebrew” formula: my “everything but the kitchen sink” formula which included ingredients not found in the others, such as dried egg yolk, plant phytochemical extracts, Latshaw vitamin/mineral formulation, and corn/canola and coconut oils.
  5. Mann Lake experimental bulk (Bulk): developed as a cost-effective bulk sub to be chopped into chunks in the field.
  6. MegaBee (Mega): developed by Dr. Gordon Wardell, and carried by Dadant.
  7. UltraBee (Ultra): Mann Lake’s flagship product.
  8. Positive control of natural Calif foothill bee-collected pollen (Natural): mixed trapped foothill pollen from California beekeeper Jeff Becker, blended with sucrose and HFCS, and made into patty form (compliments of Mann Lake Ltd.).
  9. Negative control without protein supplementation (Negative): no patty given, but the same amount of sugar syrup as given the other groups.

Experimental considerations: There were other formulations that I considered testing, but most were similar to ones above. An exception was the patty produced by California beekeeper (and good friend) Keith Jarrett; after deliberation, he opted to pass on this particular trial. In hindsight, I wish that I had included it. I also contacted the developers of each product, and asked them for comments on feeding their products for optimum effect, since some had been unhappy with the design of other published trials.

A trial of this sort should include both positive and negative control groups, i.e., one receiving a treatment that you already know will give a measurable effect (natural pollen), as well as a negative control that receives no treatment. Technically, the Negative Control group should be fed a sham patty of moistened sugar alone to account for the effect of the sugar (roughly 50%) in the protein patties. On the other hand, the treatment of feeding protein patties adds a hive disturbance and potential bee-crushing variable that an unsupplemented hive would not normally receive. In the case of this trial, since I would be feeding sugar in the syrup (at least 3.25 lbs fed per each patty fed) far in excess of that in the patties (about 0.5 lbs per patty), I felt that a compensatory sugar feeding was unnecessary for the Negative Controls (in all hives, sugar was fed in excess of nutritional requirements, as indicated by the weight gains (not shown) of the colonies).

I wanted enough colonies in each group to be able to detect statistical differences due to treatment (type of pollen sub), so set up 18 hives for each treatment (162 hives total). As a general rule, due to the natural variability of colonies, a minimum of 12 hives should be in each treatment group in order to detect statistically significant differences.

Description of the (First) Experimental Apiary Location
This yard was located in a grassy clearing in an oak/pine habitat at a ranch at 2700-ft elevation in the Sierra foothills. The yard was chosen mainly due to its easy access for the multiple required feedings and for its uniform flat terrain. Its drawback was that it is on the outskirts of town, so there was some opportunity for the bees to forage on natural pollen. This drawback was partially offset by competition between the large number of managed colonies in this and two nearby apiaries of my own.

Abbreviated Experimental Log
Advance preparation: Mann Lake Ltd. prepared their own formulations, and generously volunteered to mix and prepare the Homebrew and Natural patties to my specifications[8], using ingredients that I shipped to them. I purchased MegaBee patties directly from Dadant. FeedBee patties were custom prepared to the manufacturer’s specifications by Global Patty.[9] A minimum of 360 lbs of patties (20 lbs per hive) was obtained for each group, and stored in a cool room (Fig. 1).

July 23-31, 2013 Set up 9 groups of 18 colonies in the test yard. Started with 5-frame nucs with new queens that had been laying for 2-5 weeks; nucs from various queen mothers distributed equally into all test groups. Laid out the 9 groups w/ all hives facing the same direction, each group separated by built landmarks (drums, cinder blocks, and pallets) (Fig. 2).

We checked all colonies for health and queenrightness, replacing any questionable ones. We worked all the nucs into singles containing only 5 frames, so as to be able to easily see the size of the starting cluster; we equalized all until the two visible sides of the outside frames were covered with a single layer of bees (Fig. 3). There was a light nectar flow on, and colonies started building small amounts of comb from the lids, so after equalization we added a frame of foundation to either side.

August 8--Time Point 0: Natural pollen flow nearly over, colonies slowing down broodrearing. No noticeable change in strengths. Assigned treatment groups by random number generator, and filled the boxes to 10 frames with additional foundation (Fig. 3b). Feeding #1: fed each colony 1 patty plus ½ gal syrup (9:1 Pro-Sweet:water[10]).

Experimental considerations: Treatment groups should always be either randomly (not arbitrarily or haphazardly) or systematically assigned to avoid any inadvertent investigator effect.
I needed to control varroa infestation as a variable, but didn’t want to stress the nucs with my usual formic acid or thymol treatments. So I used (for my first time) 1 Apivar® amitraz strip hung in the center of each nuc, hoping to obtain a near complete mite kill by using this extended-release synthetic miticide. Since we’d also seen some EFB in the operation this spring, I also treated each colony with 1 Tbl Terra Pro® OTC antibiotic (we observed no EFB during the course of the trial).

August 12-18: Four more feedings of ½ gal Pro-Sweet syrup diluted to 60% sugar. Queens laying well due to syrup stimulation, but little young brood. Still ...


June 2014


Technology 1: An Internet-based Honey Bee Learning Tool


Our world is changing faster than ever. With the powerful steed of technology bounding into the future, most of us are getting dragged along behind, whether we like it or not. Generally speaking, beekeepers are not the most technocentric crowd – I’d say we’re more appreciators of the flowers and sunshine of the natural world – but there are people out there using an incredible conglomerate of gadgets and applications to work with bees. This series of articles will look at how today’s technology is shaping beekeeping and research as we know it.

On the morning of April the 3rd, I watched German bees crawl out of their entrance and swoop away to scour the landscape. With the sun shining (solar intensity 480 watt/m2 ) the air was warming up nicely (12º C, pressure: 940 mbar) and the humidity had come down during the early dawn (from 100% to 62%). This was one of the first real days of the honeybee spring. In recent days the surrounding landscape had bloomed and the bees were bringing in nectar (On the 29th of March the hive weighed 53 kg and this day they started at 56 kg). Looking at the repeating weight pattern on the chart was interesting. At such a fine scale (minute by minute) it resembled a set of off-kilter stairs - a sharp gain during the day followed by the slow descent of ripening at night, and then a little dip in the morning as the bulk of foragers left the hive. As I watched the hive entrance, the activity seemed to increase. Turning back to the data I found the number of incoming and outgoing bees ascending rapidly, just as the outside air crossed 11º C.

Yet, when I turned my eyes from one window to the other – that is, from the computer screen to the window outside – I saw a blustery gale beating raindrops against the glass. The Scottish bees in my neighborhood would not be leaving the hives, instead remaining in their warm, safe cluster. But with the click of a button, I could watch the live stream of German bees head into a wonderful sunny morning a mere 1000 miles away.

This can be done from Scotland, USA or even Mongolia – anywhere with an internet connection – thanks to Honey Bee Online Studies, or HOBOS; a non-profit, online education tool. HOBOS is the project of Dr. Jüegen Tautz, a professor at the Universität Würzburg in Germany. Dr Tautz, a bee researcher, who has published a number of articles and books, began developing HOBOS in 2006 and the website first came online in June 2009. For it’s first version, school classes from nine countries were able to see inside a honey bee colony via the internet, but now this tool has expanded to the world.

HOBOS is the ultimate observation hive monitored with a hefty assemblage of electronic equipment – 13 temperature sensors (one between each frame, as well as front and back of the hive), a humidity sensor, a bidirectional light barrier to register incoming and outgoing bees and an electronic scale, all of which are hooked up to a datalogger and published on the website in real time. The front of the hive entrance is monitored by two cameras, and both are able to be viewed live in two different qualities. One camera is for normal viewing of entrance activity and the other for thermographic imagery. Switching to the thermographic camera shows the hot and cold sensors jumping around the screen to follow the bright-hot bees, making it feel like the footage of a night-battle or a heat-seeking missile.  
The website also shoves the viewer directly into the hive, where two endoscopic cameras reveal what happens behind closed doors. These use a light wavelength which is invisible for the bees so “their natural behavior can thus be observed under the total darkness in the hive.” One camera is set in the middle of comb alley six and the other is on the floor of comb ally eleven. The floor angle shows the bees clustering in a night-vision sort of light, while the other view adequately conveys what it must feel like to be a bee inside a cluster; everything mashed together in a mess of gray and black with a leg appearing here, an abdomen standing out there. While watching these videos the in-hive buzzing floods out of the computer speakers, which I found to be a lovely soundtrack while typing this article or for any other work on the computer.

Outside the hive a 6th camera allows the user to look over the surrounding garden which holds the nearby weather station. This station measures air pressure, temperature, humidity, atmospheric electric field strength, precipitation, wind speed/direction, solar radiation, soil moisture and leaf wetness, all of which are also published in real time on the site’s chart. The chart is the website’s user interface – where I found the numbers reported above. The casual user is able to play with a few different variables, but after signing up (which is free) and logging in, the user is able to use any combination (up to 6 at a time) of the measurements. These can be looked at in very fine detail, down to the minute or even second, or seen in the context of the entire data set (from 2011, it seems).
All these devices create ....


May 2014

The Beez Kneez - A Zany, Successful Business


Crazy is the first thought that comes to mind when the women in bee outfits and
wacky antennae on their helmets round the corner of a Minneapolis street
on their bikes, pulling little trailers full of honey jars. Learning what they
are up to makes it plain that they are crazy like a fox.

Kristy Allen and Erin Rupp started The Beez Kneez, LLC,1 in 2010. Kristy describes the venture as “a humble idea that has succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.” Beyond selling honey, they provide education classes and operate a community beekeeping center. Their infectious enthusiasm has enlivened the larger beekeeping community – even long-time commercial people. Their wild dreaming is far from over; their stated mission is to “revive the hive.” Be careful what you wish for: They have found themselves thrust into bee politics from the city to the state level.

Their paths seem star-crossed: Both were dedicated to bees as models for sustainability, and, as human examples, both were dedicated bicycle commuters. Erin graduated in Environmental Studies and Geology from Macalester College in St. Paul, MN, and became involved with environmental education. She worked with youth farming programs and the Bell Museum of Natural History at the University of Minnesota, where she taught about insects. The curator of education there, Kevin Williams, is a beekeeper who whetted her interest in bees. She took the UM Beekeeping Short Course at the Spivak Lab and began keeping her own hives, which she moved to Foxtail Farm, a teaching CSA in Osseola, WI, about 50 miles northeast of Minneapolis.

Kristy’s journey was more circuitous: She graduated from UM in Global Studies and proceeded to navigate the globe, volunteering on sustainable farms. She spent a year at Heifer International’s ranch in Arkansas working with the vegetable crop, livestock and experiential education.

During that time, she visited her aunt and uncle, Eileen and Ed Menefee, commercial beekeepers with 1000 hives at Bar Bell Bee Ranch, north of Grand Rapids, in Squaw Lake, MN.2 She describes her first look into a hive as “amazing. I was fascinated with the connection to the food system. That’s what hooked me.”

Soon after, she was off for the mountains of Ecuador, where she managed an organic production and demonstration farm. That is a story in itself: La Finca Urkuwayku is a project of Steven Sherwood, a plant pathologist and research fellow at Wageningen University in The Netherlands, and his wife Miriam.3 Kristy helped build water catchment basins on their land, which had some beehives on it. She went to meetings of aged local beekeepers “that went on and on forever. They would talk romantically about bees and how they listen to them. They had a few hives, and they were self-sustainable.”

Back in Minneapolis the following summer, she worked with the 100 hives at The Sioux, Mdewakanton, Shakopee Community Wozupi (Dakota language for garden), a five-acre vegetable CSA.

Meanwhile, five years ago, when they had been married just two years, the Menefees suffered the loss of 90% of their bees. “We had to figure out a way to recover,” said Eileen. Their answer was in the growing local food movement; they began promoting their raw honey at fairs and farmers’ markets, where they found ample opportunity to educate a curious public about all pollinators.

Kristy joined her aunt and uncle to work their bees, and she jumped at the offer to sell their honey at the Minneapolis Farmers’ Market. The Menefees had been bottling in their garage, using plastic to hedge against breakage. But Kristy asked for hers in glass jars, and she soon came up with a professionally designed label.

“Our little part in getting her started was just a taste. Kristy was so determined. Our sales of raw and unprocessed honey have gone through the roof -- up 40%, so we don’t sell wholesale bulk anymore. We sell directly to grocery stores and to the consumer. We have gotten a bigger building and an extraction room. We still sell half of our honey as processed, because people want to be able to pour it.

“It’s a phenomenon. The information put out by people like Kristy and The National Honey Board has been awesome. Everyone who buys honey gets the [NHB] booklet. The University of Minnesota education programs are so important, and people love it.

“My husband has been a beekeeper for 40 years. Every time he looks in a hive he is excited. He’s continually fascinated and wants to learn. That’s when you find a true beekeeper, and that’s what happened to Kristy. She just ran with it.”

Or pedaled with it; as a dedicated cyclist, Kristy painted her bike and dressed in bee black and yellow, attached pipe-cleaner bee antennae to her helmet and began selling honey door to door.

The Menefees had given Kristy her own bees, which she placed at Foxtail Farm. The 16 acre plot, owned by Paul and Chris Burkhouse, provides weekly CSA boxes for over 300 members as well as training for new organic farmers. Erin Rupp had been keeping bees for several years, and the short-lived irony is that she and Kristy had their hives at different entrances to the farm, coming and going to tend their colonies unbeknownst to one another.
When they at last met, they talked bees, as beekeepers do, but their discussion turned to the need for pollinator education. Kristy was already planning to establish urban hives through Beez Kneez, and Erin wanted to create experiential learning by bringing people into hives – something that she could not do at the museum. “Our work is aligned,” said Erin.
Erin and Kristy launched their pilot year in the summer of 2012, originally calling it Community Bees on Bikes. They established hives at host sites at Twin Cities area schools, parks, community gardens and urban farms, reaching over 150 children and adults with their in-hive classes.

“Barriers have fallen,” said Kristy. By the first year, they had 20 hives – half in the city, half in the country. By last year, they had 50 hives, with city hives located in three Minnesota parks, two schools, the Bakken Museum and many urban farms and gardens.4

“We want to source honey locally more and more,” said Kristy. “The problem is that the country bees are not making as much honey as the city bees. Of our 30 hives in the country we were able to harvest off only two. Of the 20 hives in the city, all but two had about 40 pounds, even when we left ample for overwintering.” (Cities generally have 10° warmer temperatures and season-long backyard forage, which may contribute to the difference.) Next year, they hope to increase to 75 hives and reach a goal of 100 the following year.



 April 2014


Proceedings of the American Bee Research Conference


Compiled and Edited by Drs. Juliana Rangel and Rose-Anne Meissner, Research Associate, Department of Entomology, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 77843
The 2014 American Bee Research Conference was held January 10 & 11, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas in conjunction with the annual meeting of the American Honey Producers Association. The following are abstracts from the 2014 Conference.
1. Burand, J.a, S. Zhenga, E. Ramosb, N. Reichb & A. Dea - VIRUS INCIDENCE IN MASSACHUSETTS BEEHIVES aDepartment of Microbiology, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst, MA 01003 (e-mail:, bDepartment of Public Health, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Department of Public Health, Amherst, MA 01003
Individual honey bees (Apis mellifera), from hives in University of Massachusetts apiary were analyzed over a two year period for the presence of viral pathogens. Bees from these hives were found to be infected with one or more of the 3 honey bee viruses: Black Queen Cell Virus (BQCV), Deformed Wing Virus (DWV), and Sacbrood Virus (SBV). During this time period (August 2010 to August 2011) the prevalence of each of these viruses varied both within a hive and between hives throughout both seasons. In both years DWV was the most prevalent of the viruses being present in 37% and 44% of the bees in 2010 and 2011 respectively. BQCV and SBV levels were high in 2010 bees (23.6% and 32.4% respectively) with the levels of both these viruses dropping to ~11% in 2011. Throughout this study we found a significant number of bees that were infected with more than one virus. We are currently examining the rates at which bees are infected with single and multiple viruses to determine if virus infection can lead to immune activation or suppression in
individual bees.

2. Burand, J.P.a, S. Zhenga & K. Stonerb. - Epizootiology of Honey Bee Viruses in Bee Populations Pollinating Cucurbits aDepartment of Microbiology, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst, MA 01003 (e-mail:, and bConnecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, New Haven, CT 06504
Several honey bee viruses including Black Queen Cell Virus (BQCV), and Deformed Wing Virus (DWV) have been found to infect other bees including several species of bumble bees. These findings have led us to examine the possibility that these viruses move from honey bees to other bees during foraging on common floral resources. To investigate this possibility we used a molecular approach to detect the presence and prevalence of both of these viruses in bee pollinators found foraging on pumpkins (Cucurbita sp.) on four farms in Connecticut. The three main groups foraging on pumpkins, Apis mellifera, Bombus sp. and Peponapis pruinosa, were sampled 5 times at each site from early June to late September. Sampling included approximately 20 bees of each group when available. Our initial analysis has focused on BQCV which appears to be the most prevalent of the viruses in bees we have examined to date. Of the ~ 300 bees we have analyzed to date, 47% were found to be infected with BQCV. This virus was the most prevalent in Apis with 58% being infected, while the Bombus and Peponapis were infected at 39% and 3% respectively. The level of virus-positive bees from the different farms ranged between 4% and 58% and overall our results suggest a correlation between the level of this virus in honey bees and the level of infection of other bee species. On the two farm sites where we found honey bees infected with BQCV at 93% and 75%, Bombus bees were at 77% and 40% respectively. At the site where we found only 10% of Apis infected with BQCV we were able to detect only 5% BQCV infected Bombus, suggesting that the infection of Apis and Bombus is clustered and may be connected in some way.

3. Catalfamo, K.M., B.E. Traver, H.K. Feazel-Orr, N.G. Johnson, T.D. Anderson & R.D. Fell - VIRUS PREVALENCE IN HONEY BEES FOLLOWING COLONY TREATMENT WITH CHLOROTHALONIL, FUMAGILLIN, AND TAU-FLUVALINATE Virginia Tech University, Department of Entomology, Blacksburg, VA, 24061 (e-mail:
Increased colony loss has been a rising concern for European honey bee, Apis mellifera, populations. Although the causes of increased losses are unknown, researchers have hypothesized that various factors are to blame. Two factors believed to strongly correlate with colony losses are viral infections and exposure to pesticides. Viruses often lead to cell death and can cause the host to die. Pesticides are known to reduce immune system responses and make organisms more vulnerable to disease. This study focused on exposing honey bee colonies to three different pesticides to determine whether black queen cell virus (BQCV) and deformed wing virus (DWV) infection levels were impacted in honey bee colonies. The three pesticides used were the miticide tau-fluvalinate, the antibiotic fumagillin used for Nosema control, and chlorothalonil, a commonly encountered fungicide outside of the hive. The presence of DWV and/or BQCV in randomly sampled female workers was determined using RT-PCR. For samples positive for either virus, a semi-quantitative approach using band density was used to measure virus levels. All virus levels were normalized using each sample’s level of β-actin. For DWV, we did not see significant differences in levels across time or across treatments for fall, winter, and spring. There were no significant differences in levels of BQCV in the fall or winter, but there was a significant difference in the infection levels of BQCV across time during the spring (p<0.01). As a trend, the levels of BQCV decreased after the fall, persisted at low levels in the winter, and then increased in the spring. The levels of DWV decreased from fall through spring. We also saw a significant decrease in varroa mite levels in the fall with tau-fluvalinate treatment (p<0.01). The data from this study show low incidence of BQCV and DWV in colonies in both the absence and presence of pesticides. Our data suggest that chlorothalonil, fumagillin, and tau-fluvalinate do not have a direct impact on the prevalence of BQCV or DWV in honey bee colonies.
4. Coulson, R.N., M.D. Tchakerian, J. Rangel & W. Baxter – THE TEXAS APIARY INSPECTION SERVICE: INFORMATION MANAGEMENT SYSTEM (TAIS/IMS) Texas A&M University, Department of Entomology, College Station, TX 77843
The Texas Apiary Inspection Service Information Management System (TAIS/IMS) is an INTERNET-based application designed to standardize and automate apiary inspection in Texas. The Texas Apiary Inspection Service is charged with regulating the honey bee industry so that colonies with diseases and parasites are restricted from movement or are destroyed. The new program employs a mobile mapping/data collection system that captures, displays, and archives spatial and tabular information on the distribution, abundance, and location of honey bee diseases, parasites, and associated organisms. TAIS/IMS will expedite the apiary inspection process and facilitate timely reporting of results.

5. Eiri, D.M.a, G. Suwannapongb, M. Endlerc & J.C. Niehc – NOSEMA CERANAE CAN INFECT HONEY BEE LARVAE AND REDUCE SUBSEQUENT ADULT LONGEVITY aDepartment of Integrative Biology, University of Texas, Austin, TX 78712 (e-mail:, bDepartment of Biology, Burapha University, Chon Buri 20131, Thailand, cDivision of Biological Sciences, Section of Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093
The microsporidian Nosema ceranae is a global problem that decreases honey bee fitness. It is thought to only infect adult honey bees and thus its potential to infect a key life stage, larvae, has been neglected. We reared honey bee (Apis mellifera) larvae in vitro and demonstrate that N. ceranae can infect larvae with subsequent detrimental effects. Three-day-old larvae were given a single dose 0 (0K), 10,000 (10K), or 40,000 (40K) spores. After larvae had defecated and become pre-pupae, we dissected out their midguts and counted the number of N. ceranae spores. Significantly more spores were present in pre-pupae from the 10K and 40K treatments as compared to the control. Separately, we reared larvae to adulthood and counted midgut spores at adult death. Larval infection significantly decreased 40K-treated adult longevity. However, the low dose (10K), unexpectedly led to significantly more infection than the high dose (40K). Adults infected as larvae contained an average of 16,021±3,085 spores (maximum of 215,000 spores), and 12,454±3,647 spores (maximum of 295,000 spores) for the 10K and 40K doses respectively. Control bees were minimally contaminated. Differential immune activation may account for these results if the higher dose triggered a stronger response. Immune defense can be costly and could result in 40K-treated bees having lower infection levels and longevity as compared to 10K-treated bees. Honey bee larvae can thus be a reservoir of N. ceranae infection whose effects may be masked by relatively low levels of adult infection but nonetheless decrease lifespan.

 March 2014

Queens for Pennies

by Randy Oliver

I’ve been encouraged in recent years by the number of beekeepers who appear to be successfully keeping locally-adapted stocks of bees without treatment for varroa.  I am a strong supporter of their efforts, and see them as the wave of the future.

But First a Rant
Unfortunately, there is also a great deal of confusion as to what “treatment free” beekeeping really means. Allow me to use an analogy to explain:
Dairymen prefer to keep Holstein cattle. Holsteins are thin-skinned, thoroughly domesticated cattle selected solely for milk production. Their normal care requires shelter, supplemental feeding, routine vaccinations, and treatment with antibiotics. If a dairyman turned his Holsteins out on the range to fend for themselves without care, and half of them died each year, he would be accused of having committed animal neglect—“the failure to provide the basic care required for an animal to thrive.”
Yet this is exactly what thousands of recreational beekeepers do every year. Under the misconception that they are practicing “treatment free” beekeeping, they are in actuality simply neglecting their domesticated animals. The reason for this is that they are starting with commercial package bees—bees akin to Holstein cattle, in that they are bred for high brood and honey production under standard management practices (notably mite management, but also supplemental feeding or antibiotic treatment if indicated). Most commercial bee stocks should be considered as domesticated animals. There is absolutely no reason to expect that your wishful thinking will miraculously transform your newly-purchased “domesticated” bees into hardy survivor stock able to survive as wild animals without standard care and treatment.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am no more criticizing the commercial queen producers than I would criticize the dedicated breeders of Holstein cattle. The queen breeders are producing the best breeds for beekeepers willing to provide their colonies with the “standard” degree of husbandry (which includes at this time, treatment(s) of some sort for varroa). I have no problem whatsoever with that; but my crystal ball says that someday the market will dwindle for bees that require regular treatment for mites.
Do not disillusion yourself. Allowing domesticated package colonies to die year after year is not in any way, shape, or form a contribution to the breeding of mite-resistant stocks. There is a vast difference between breeding for survivor stock and simply allowing commercial bees to die from neglect! By introducing commercial bees year after year into an area, and then allowing those package colonies to first produce drones and then to later die from varroa, these well-meaning but misguided beekeepers screw up any evolutionary progress that the local feral populations might be making towards developing natural resistance to varroa. Not only that, but those collapsing “mite bombs” create problems for your neighbors. Referring to yourself as a bee-keeper confers upon you a responsibility to the local beekeeping community. Allowing hives to collapse from AFB or varroa makes you a disease-spreading

A Solution
Enough scolding. I strongly support those willing to actually practice selective breeding for treatment-free (or minimal treatment) locally-adapted stocks of bees. But let me be frank (try to stop me); if you start your hive with commercial stock, then by all means care for them as domesticated animals! If you want to go treatment free, then start with survivor stock bred to be naturally resistant to mites and viruses, such as VSH, Russian, or locally-adapted ferals. Do not kid yourself into thinking that allowing innocent domesticated bees to die a slow and ugly death is the same thing as breeding for survivor stock—“breeding” instead means the propagation of bees that don’t die[1]—the key word being propagation. And this is a frustration for many well-intentioned beginners—no one in their area is propagating survivor stock for sale. That is why I wrote this article.
To me, it is a crime against nature not to breed daughters from that fantastic survivor colony. But most beekeepers think that it is beyond their scope of ability to raise queens. Nonsense! Let me show you how to raise about 10 queens at a time for pennies apiece. This is not the way we do it commercially, but this method can be easily practiced by most anyone.

A Simple Method
I’m going show you step by step how to raise about 10 queen cells in a simple queenless cell builder. Here’s a list of everything that you’ll need:

  • A chosen breeder queen hive.
  • A strong, healthy donor colony from which to make the cell builder hive.
  • An empty brood box with a bottom board and cover to use for the cell builder hive.
  • If there is no nectar flow occurring, a syrup feeder.
  • If you’re over 40, a lighted magnifying headband[2].
  • A few Chinese grafting tools[3].
  • JZ’s BZ’s plastic cell cups[4].
  • A damp towel
  • Any sort of nuc boxes or divided hive bodies in which to mate out the queens.

Timing: It’s easiest, and you’ll get the best queens, by raising them during swarming season. Look for when your colonies start building queen cells on the bottom bars, or when they are full of emerged drones.

Day 0—Locate the future queen larvae: Before you start setting up the cell builder, first make sure that you can find larvae of the right age from your chosen breeder queen[5]. Go into her colony and make sure that there’s an older, dark frame containing well-fed freshly-hatched larvae[6]. Mark this frame for later recovery and put it back into the hive. You want to graft from the youngest larvae possible—when they are still the size of an egg, and just starting to curl (as in the photo above).

Choose a donor colony: This is the colony (or colonies) from which you will steal nurse bees to make up your cell builder[7]. It must be healthy, full of brood, and the larvae should be well fed with jelly as an indicator of the nurses being in a good state of nutrition[8]. Locate the queen of your donor colony and temporarily set her and the frame she’s on aside in a nuc box for safekeeping[9].

Set up the cell builder hive: Put down a bottom board with an empty brood box wherever you want to make your queenless cell builder (its entrance should be at least several feet away from the donor colony). Into this box, you are going to put at least 4 frames[10] in the order above (the breeder larvae frame will be added later):

A comb of open larvae: Start with a comb containing some open brood and eggs. This will be the core of the cell builder, around which the nurse bees will cluster. You don’t want a solid frame of young brood competing with the queen cells for feeding—just a patch of young larvae emerging over the next few days to stimulate the nurse bees to produce an abundance of royal jelly. The rest of the frame can be sealed brood, beebread, or whatever.

Cut a channel the width of a hive tool: parallel to the top bar, at least midway up the frame, in either the pollen frame or open brood frame as shown. Scrape out the comb right down to the foundation[11].

Add the nurse bees: Now shake all the bees from all the frames of the donor hive (other than the one that the queen was on) into the cell builder hive[12]. The older bees will quickly fly back to the donor hive[13], leaving your cell builder full of young nurse bees. You have now created a free-flying queenless cell builder colony. At this time you can temporarily add the frame of larvae to be grafted[14].
As you were shaking bees, if there was nectar shaking from the combs, the bees do not need to be fed. If not, then lightly drench all the bees with 1:1 syrup and add a quart of syrup in a top feeder jar. Put a cover on the cell builder and check back in an hour.

One-hour check back for strength: After an hour, your cell builder should look like this—bees covering the frames and hanging from the lid. If there are not this many bees, then shake additional bees (through a sieve box) off of brood combs from other donor colonies. A strong starter like this can rear up to 50 queen cells, even in a snowstorm[15].

Now wait a few to several hours. It takes a few hours for the bees to recognize that they are queenless, and to be ready to start building emergency queen cells. What you are going to now do is to give them chosen larvae from which to rear those cells.
I got the idea for this method from observing my bees building queen cells as in the photo above. It occurred to me that we could duplicate the process with prepared queen cups, thus avoiding the need for the recreational beekeeper to use cell bars to hold the queen cells (commercial guys typically put about 50 grafted cells distributed on 3 cell bars into a special frame).

Down to the nitty gritty—grafting. Yes, I said “grafting.”  ......

February 2014

Liz Vaenoski - Queen of Beeswax Sculpting and Advocate

for the American Beekeeper

by Karen Nielson Lorence

Beekeepers know the importance of the queen in the hive. She is the mother of the colony, the central nervous system of the hive, the producer of the workers and drones. Beekeepers in the United States have a ‘sort’ of queen who advocates for them in the industry and who
sees that things get done by her generous donations at the American Beekeeping Federation convention and in state clubs.Liz Vaenoski is that queen...that monarch...who rules exclusively in the realm of beeswax molding. Liz got into serious beekeeping 33 years ago when she married John Vaenoski, but her interest in bees came long before

She grew up in beekeeping as her uncle, Marcus Osborne, was a commercial beekeeper at that time. Both of her parents worked during the day, so she would hop on her bike in the summer and ride the four miles out to her uncle’s apiary. He ran 1200 hives in Beloit, Wisconsin and was an active member of the American Beekeeping Federation. Liz wanted to be a beekeeper, but her uncle would not take her on as a partner because, in his words, “beekeeping was not for girls.”

It was in September of 1979 when Liz’s aunt and uncle invited her out to a Friday night fish fry with them and included John Vaenoski in the invitation. John had been a commercial beekeeper since 1959 and was widowed. The first time Liz met John, she said to herself, “I’d like to marry that guy but...” It didn’t take long for the couple to realize that they had a lot in common in addition to their love of bees. John first offered her a friendship ring followed by an engagement ring in December. But Liz knew it was for real when he bought her an engraved stainless steel hive tool. They were married in May of 1980.

Now Liz will quip that this is not exactly the correct chain of events. With a smile on her face, she says it went something like this: “John put out an ad saying, ‘Wanted: Single girl with extractor. Send picture of the extractor.’ I did (send a picture of the extractor) and he liked what he saw and married me.”

John Vaenoski had 1400 hives at that time and worked them mainly for honey production. He would drive out from his grocery store in Maywood Park outside of Chicago and work his bees and then go back to the grocery store in the evenings. His first wife would extract the honey... as much as 6 drums a day. One year she totaled 254 drums of honey. John had only one helper. Liz jumped right in after they married and LOVED it! John died in 1997 and Liz still keeps 150 hives today, working with one helper two days a week.

This biographical story of Liz now evolves to how and when Liz got started in beeswax sculpting. If you have ever been to an American Beekeeping Federation convention, you most likely have seen a sculpture that Liz has created, either in keeping with the theme of the year or with the interest of the potential bidders.

The wax that she uses comes from her own hives, starting first as cappings from her cappings  melter. Water is NEVER put with the cappings. A double boiler type of set up is used where the wax is in a container above hot water. Liz’s set up is a melter, 6’ The Wisconsin Honey Producers met in November and Liz donated this sculpture for their auction. long and 4’ wide. In the wax container, the wax will flow out one hole while the honey flows out the second hole. Why? Because wax is lighter than honey. However, she is the first to suggest that a make-shift double boiler on the top of a range could be used if you are a smaller beekeeper. Her advice:

Wax has a 140 degree melting point. Melt your wax; do not cook it! Over-heating will burn the honey. Do not stir cappings. When cappings are completely liquified, take the container off the heat and let it set. The wax will be on top and the honey will be on the bottom. That honey can be used for baking, for feeding back to the bees, or for customers who prefer a full-bodied honey. She even suggests you sell it as a special feature since it is thicker and more highly colored and flavored than extracted honey.

Now that the wax has set, it is time to remove it from the mold. Remember....this is just the first step in making a wax sculpture. There may be impurities on the bottom. Scrape these impurities off of the wax and save those scrapings to re-melt a second time. Your pure wax on the top is now ready to be perfected...either for sale or for use. If you are going to sell processed

wax in its rendered form, you can re-melt the wax and run it through a paper  towel. You may then want to get containers that represent 1#, 1/2# or 1/4# quantities. Your customers may want to try their hand at candle making, value added products, or beeswax molding.

Here are some of Liz Vaenoski’s suggestions:

● Get small molds with lots of detail. Detail is what makes you see the figure as an angel or something specific.

● You may, in some cases, use a kind of release agent. If the figurine is still difficult to remove from the mold, put it in the freezer for a short time and it will shrink slightly. Don’t use release if you are going to paint as the release agent may have an oil base.

● When using ceramic molds, the temperature must be very low. If you cannot get the mold apart, put the mold on a cookie sheet or cake pan, upside down, and put it in the oven. The wax will then run out.

● If your candles bloom from the cold temperatures, remove the bloom by using a blow dryer or by polishing with a soft cloth.

● To increase your sales of candles, demonstrate dipping them at the same time you are selling. Or...have a pot with wax heating in it, but not in an outdoor market. You will draw bees.

● Always put labels on to warn your customer about the fire hazard that candles present.

● Wick size is determined by the diameter of the candle. Candles burn1 hour for each inch of a 1” diameter candle in general. For a pillar candle, remember that the area = π r2.

● Liz flattens out the bottoms of her candles and sculptures most often with a hot plate, warning us that THIS IS AFIRE HAZARD!!! This should not be done without the utmost care.

Besides candles, Liz also makes ornaments, wall decorations, and sculptures. Here is where her artistic talent is showcased. Using every single ‘trick in the book,’ Liz takes advantage of bizarre receptacles to make the first shapes....potato chip lid for a hat brim, egg shells, small boxes and oddly shaped containers. These are eventually joined to make the shapes she is looking for. How does she secure these shapes together to get her final sculpture? A wire is inserted between two pieces. An Exacto knife blade is heated up. Put between the wax, the two pieces will each melt and then meld together. The Exacto knife is then used to smooth out the juncture of the two pieces. All of this takes a lot of patience. Using foundation for thin items, Liz warns that this is tough to work with. She has made sails for boats as well as leaves for trees out of foundation and then adheres them to the project she is making. A quick dip into liquid wax gives an added insurance that they will bond more securely.

She has been known to scour craft stores for bargains that she can use for her beeswax creations. A leftover Easter egg tree one year was purchased, wrapped with thread around each branch (so wax will adhere to it) and then dipped, re-dipped, and dipped yet again into hot wax. To this she added cookie cutout leaves and was immersed again.

Liz Vaenoski is a modest person who does not seek notoriety. Yet, she is well known in the beekeeping community as an aggressive advocate for the honey bee. She supports the American Beekeeping Federation with her donations and is willing to do so for any state by making an item for their organization to auction. All the state association needs to do is to pay for the postage. Texas, Iowa, California, and Wisconsin have all taken advantage of her generosity. When asked what her preferred part of beekeeping is, she answered with a laugh, “Winter!” Her favorite (and hardest) wax sculpture? An extractor with the center moving, set to the sound of a music box playing “Roll out the Barrel.”

Liz’s favorite part of beekeeping is talking and teaching about bees. They have been very special to her for so many reasons. Her inquisitive nature loved learning the science of beekeeping. She has met so many interesting and wonderful people. Mainly, however, she concurs that the ‘way of the beehive’ is the way we all should be living. Each bee has a job to do and does it. Bees work together for the betterment of the community. And..they are willing to sacrifice for the betterment of the hive.

Thank you Liz Vaenoski for providing
photos of your beeswax sculptures.

January 2014

Tax Q & A

by Howard Scott

I’ve been writing beekeeping tax columns for 15 years and have received many questions. So this time, I am reproducing the most-frequently asked or most intriguing questions and my responses.

Q: Should I file a Schedule C or Schedule F?
A: Schedule C is for small business owners. Schedule F is for farmers. Each form has useful entries. But, since Schedule C is simpler, I suggest using Schedule C. All tax preparers are familiar with Schedule C, but only a few practitioners are comfortable with Schedule F. Plus the result will be the same. If you make $4.000 profit using a Schedule C, you will make the same earnings using a Schedule F. Possibly the Schedule F could help you allocate costs of livestock better, but that isn’t really necessary.

Q: I have lost money on my beekeeping on my last four years. How serious is that?
A: It depends. If you lost $100,000 a year and deducted it from other income, the IRS might be interested in looking over your books. But if you lost, say $500 to $1,000 a year, then it’s not too serious. Of course, you must be able to explain why you lost money. Perhaps you purchased many packages and most of them died. Maybe you invested in equipment for making beeswax cosmetics and it hasn’t paid off yet. The rule is, a business, to be a business, must earn money in 3 out of 5 years, but that guideline isn’t hard fast. If you could defend your poor performance so that an IRS agent accepts it, you could continue to lose money.

Q: What are you if not a business?
A: You’re a hobby. Generally speaking, a hobbyist is taxed on his revenue, but not on his expenses. Or, if you have lots of job expenses and are filing form 2106, your beekeeping expenses are only partially deducted. The net result will be a higher tax liability.

Q: If I have a separate building as a honey house, can I take a home office?
A: Strictly speaking, yes, you can. But the advantage of a home office is that it captures a portion of normal home costs—heat, electricity, water, mortgage, taxes, home maintenance, repairs—as expenses. A separate structure has limits. You cannot take any of these general expenses. Plus, if you elect to have a home office, you have to add back depreciation when you sell the house. That means you will pay some tax when you sell your home, which normally would not be the case. That’s because there is a house sale exemption ($500,000 gain exemption if married, $250,000 gain exemption if single), but this exemption does not include the home office deduction. So, unless your honey business is a major part of your income (over 50%), I would not bother with a home office. The other exception to this is when you can isolate the costs of your honey house (have a separate electric meter, etc.)

Q: How should I calculate cost of the bees?
A: Keep it simple. The money you spend on packages are the cost. Buy 20 packages at $80 each. Livestock cost is $1,600. If you do ten successful splits, then have 30 hives, livestock cost is still $1,600. Per hive cost goes from $80 to $53.33 ($1,600 divided by 30). If you purchase 10 queens at $10 each, then your livestock expense is now $1,700 ($1,600 + $100). Livestock cost is the total money you spend to purchase bees.

Q: Should I incorporate?
A: You incorporate because of liability, not economic reasons. If you are worried about being sued, then incorporate. A lawyer might charge you $500 to draw up the papers. What is the chance of having a lawsuit being filed against you? Well, if someone swallows a shard of glass in one of your honey bottles, and incurs medical expense, they might sue. If someone eats your honey, gets sick, and experiences serious medical issues, they might sue. If someone walking across your property is stung, and goes into anaphylactic shock, they might sue. If your truck carrying beehives crashes into another car, and the bees sting a person badly, they might sue. Probably the answer depends on the scope of your operation. If you are a small operator with fewer than 10 hives, the chance of a lawsuit is so remote that I wouldn’t bother incorporating. Otherwise, I might go through the expense of incorporating.

Q: I hear there are changes in Social Security this year? Will they be costly?
A: From 2011 and 2012, there was a temporary payroll cut in Social Security from 6.2% to 4.2%. In 2013, that expired. Consequently, as a self-employed beekeeper, your Social Security liability will go from 13.3% (4.2 + 6.2 + 1.45 + 1.45) to 15.3% (6.2 + 6.2 + 1.45 + 1.45). So if your beekeeping business made $10,000 profit, you will pay $200 more tax.

Q: It seems when I do my own taxes and try to fill out the Schedule C, I wind up paying two taxes. Is that correct?
A: On your self-employment income, you pay Federal tax at the bottom of Schedule C. But you also have to pay Social Security, which is computed in Schedule SE. Both your self-employment federal liability and Social Security obligation is reinstated on Form 1040, on lines 12 and 56, respectively. That’s the double-taxation you are talking about. It is confusing, but it’s not double taxing. In your weekly paycheck, Federal, Social Security, and State taxes are deducted. It’s simply unavoidable. Indeed, you will most likely have to pay state taxes on your beekeeping income.

Q: But why do I have to pay double Social Security on Schedule C?
A: It’s true, you pay both the employee (7.65% = 6.2% + 1.45% Medicare) and employer (7.65%) portion, for a total of 15.3%. So your Social Security takes a bigger bite than if you were just an employee. On the other hand, you get to deduct expenses from this revenue, which would not be possible as a employee, generally speaking. So incorporate, pay yourself a salary as an employee, and you will only pay 7.65%.

Q: How many beekeepers file their beekeeping income taxes?
A: I do. Others do. Certainly someone with a going business does. It is the law to file all worldwide income. But, you’re probably right. Nine out of ten backyard beekeepers probably don’t file their beekeeping activity. My bee club recently set itself up as a 501(C) nonprofit corporation simply because it wanted to comply with the law. You never know when the IRS will stick its nose in your business, and you’ll have to account for this activity.

Q: I have a combo business of producing honey and removing hives, in which I obtain more honey. In addition, I do traditional carpentry. Should I keep them separate? How should I account for the different honey flows?

A: If you are seriously trying to make this into a business, then you you should separate as much as possible. Compartmentalizing revenues and expenses allow you to see what’s going on in each area. So have one revenue trough for honey sales, hive removal, and carpentry. Merge honey sales with honey obtained from hive removal, for ease of bookkeeping. But divide expenses among the appropriate categories. If there is some overlap, divide equally among the three revenue categories.

Q: What can I deduct in mileage?
A: Any trips that directly relate to your bee work. If you visit your outyards, that’s allowable. If you trek to a supplier or attend a convention, that’s allowable. If you do a farmers’ market, all commuting miles are countable. Even your bee club meetings are useable, because such membership helps you be a more proficient practitioner.
To keep track, set up a travel sheet, listing date, destination, reason, and miles travelled. That’s your backup documentation.
I hope this helps.
Scott is a 30-year beekeeper and 20-year tax preparer specializing in small businesses. He keeps bees in Pembroke, MA.