The Classroom archive
The Classroom March 2015
by Jerry Hayes
Q Fungicides in Bee Hive Paint
I have a suspicion that fungicides that are used in paints are contributing to CCD. What are your thoughts?
Harold in Missouri
Thank you for the interesting question about fungicides in exterior paint and possible contribution to CCD. It sparked a curiosity and opinion if you don’t mind. Here is a statement from a paint industry web site, “Exterior paints: All exterior paints have fungicides, and low-biocide paints are not available for exteriors. The best choice for an exterior paint is one that has zinc oxide as the fungicide. Next best choices are zero- to very low-VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints, acrylic or latex paints, and recycled water-based paint. Avoid oil-based paints because of their high VOC content, as well as paint from old cans that may contain mercury or lead.”
Certainly any additional exposure to toxins by honey bees is the goal. Since honey bees forage in a 2-2.5 mile radius of their colony, there are lots of natural plant toxins that honey bees have encountered for millennia and now manmade toxins, not even counting the ones we as beekeepers premeditatedly put in a colony. Honey bees are tough but not impervious to all of these when they are added together.
According to the statement above, all exterior paints have fungicides and biocides in them to make the paint perform as expected in this harsh outdoor environment. I am not sure what this means if we only paint the exterior of the hive to make the expensive woodenware last longer. Colonies have been painted with oil based and older paint formulations for decades way before CCD was termed. Beekeepers have used linseed oil and tung oil and other oils to keep woodenware from rotting. Zinc- and copper-based wood treatments are also used. My biggest concern is the solvents used to keep these materials in suspension and allow them to penetrate the wood to keep fungus and termites from having a buffet. The solvents, VOC’s, are the most potentially damaging to the colony if not allowed to evaporate and air dry before using them for a honey bee hive. You and I don’t like the odor or the breathing this stuff; that is why we do it outside when we apply it.
Honey Bees are great users of ‘propolis’ to coat the inside of the colony structure, hive body, frames bottom board, top etc., and form an envelope, a cocoon if you will, as part of the colony's immune system to protect them from toxins and pathogens. This envelope on the inside and a well-aged outside wood paint or wood preservative coating applied by the beekeeper will give the longest life to the colony and the hive.
Q Moldy Syrup
Jerry, I make my own bee feed from beet sugar with a 2 to1 ratio: 2 parts sugar and 1 part water. After a while I do see some black mold growing on the sides of the feeder bucket. I have heard you can add bleach or vinegar to the bee feed and this will slow the mold down as well as the fermenting. I was wondering if this was safe for the bees and if so, how much should be added per gallon? Or is there something else that could be added to the feed to help prevent this?
This is a perennial problem and it just happens in this competitive biological soup we live in. It is basically just this tremendous nutrient source that allows fungus, yeast, bacteria, slime mold and all sorts of other things to use this sugar solution to grow and reproduce. Nothing is sterile in the sugar itself or the water used to mix it or the feeder you put it in and then all the stuff floating around in the air. This is a high school science experiment--no different than you leaving a glass of fruit juice out in a warm environment for several days. Would you drink it?
Chlorine is added to municipal drinking water sources to keep 'organisms' from being able to exist in public water supplies. Then, we drink it. Many times a teaspoon of household bleach is added per gallon on sugar syrup to retard the growth of some molds, fungus and other organisms in sugar syrup.
So, the question is what does this do to the gut bacteria in honey bees and does it have health effects? The potential detrimental effect is probably less than a feeder full of mold/fungus. Take care Steve.
Q Vertical Integration
I work for a nonprofit group; we do bee rescues of wild, feral honey bees that infest homes and swarm where they are a nuisance. We relocate these bees to Coop farms (farmers donate land, we get them an agricultural exemption, then we subsequently tend to the bees and ensure their survival).
So, here is my thought: I think our nonprofit services can offer almond growers a huge financial incentive to keep bees permanently. Instead of them having to purchase and maintain hives, we can just place them into our Coop program. We take them commercial bees, or bees from our rescues, and we tend to them. That saves them the upfront money and having to pay a beekeeper. We would just ask them for a (large) donation to our nonprofit's services. What are your thoughts?
And that is exactly what some large almond growers are experimenting doing. They have purchased a percentage of a commercial beekeeper’s operation and they get the bees for pollination. But, in turn, they have to burden some of the risk and cost during the other 330 days of the year that the commercial beekeeper normally must burden by himself. The beekeeper then becomes at some level a contract employee. It is all a work in progress to see if there is a ‘business model’ that can be developed to be successful.
Q Varroa Mite Cycle
Jerry, I am trying to understand how a bee brood break helps control Varroa? This is what I know:
- 1.1 varroa survive when the bee emerges on average
- varroa build up curve lags bee build up curve by approximately three months
- varroa can survive six months in the phoretic stage when there is no bee brood
- varroa, when bee brood is present, are in the phoretic stage 4.5-11 days.
- varroa usually survive less than 5 1/2 days away from bees
In South Carolina I am interested in splitting first of March, then first of June after the spring nectar flow ( three months later), then first of August (approximately 2 months later) after cotton, and let the final split build up on soybeans. I know a lot of colonies succumb after the honey supers are pulled the first of June due to varroa.
I typically marry another queen with the split w/o a queen. Hence, it probably takes 5-10 days for the new queen in the split to hit full speed with her egg laying. I assume the split with the old queen keeps right on laying. Approximately, 1/2 the brood ends up in each split. So, there is probably a brood break of 5-10 days at most. I assume 1/2 of the varroa from the original colony end up in each split. I also assume most of the field bees end up with the split still on the original location. However, most of the varroa are in the brood.
What am I missing and how does this all fit together to control varroa with a brood break?
Dave M. in South Carolina
Well if I understood the question correctly, it all has to do with Varroa being a parasite that requires honey bee brood, larvae and pupae to reproduce on. If brood is not available, then the mated female Varroa, the foundress mite, is then exposed /phoretic waiting, if you will, on adult honey bees until they get a pheromone signal from brood. This is what these mated foundress Varroa mites need as an obligate parasite to enter and begin the reproductive cycle on to maintain their species. If you can create a broodless condition, then it is a great time to use some form of Varroa control as they are all out in the open. None are behind capped cells safe and protected while they produce another generation.
Or, if you can create a situation with only a few Varroa in a split and if there is drawn comb, the queen can lay many more eggs a day than there are Varroa. The bees take advantage of this reproductive surge and for a while they can out reproduce the mites. But, if in your splits there is a large amount of sealed brood containing reproducing Varroa, then there is little advantage. Varroa need developing honey bee larvae and pupae to reproduce on. Limit this and a colony can temporarily out-reproduce Varroa. Do not limit this and there is little or no advantage because there has been no lack of larvae or pupae for the Varroa to use to maintain the species and they haven’t missed a reproductive beat.
A complete brood break allows either treatment, or the ability of a colony to then out reproduce Varroa if weather, and resources are optimum.
It is the opposite situation for a full size colony when fall begins and the honey bee colony is preparing for winter. The bee population drops, the queen slows laying and the problem begins as the Varroa population does not drop, so the proportion of Varroa mites to honey bees increases. If Varroa control hasn’t taken place in late summer, early fall then direct and indirect negative health events are caused by Varroa.
Q Feeding Brewers Yeast
I have a fast question for you. I am in the process of making no-cook candy boards for my colonies. Will mixing in brewer’s yeast be a problem? The recipe calls for 10 lbs. sugar, 3 tbsp. of lemon juice and 2 cups of water. Mix it and let it harden. I have a 1 lb. package of brewer’s yeast.
Remember that Brewer’s yeast or anything fed to bees when confined because of cold weather or changeable weather patterns means they can't get out and defecate to get rid of the indigestible roughage. If the bees have to hold on to indigestible material in their intestines, then this is a great environment for other organisms like Nosema to grow and prosper. Brewer’s yeast is a nice addition, but doesn't ...
The Classroom February 2015
by Jerry Hayes
Q COLLOIDAL SILVER FOR BEE HEALTH?
Being a beginner beekeeper with 3 years to my credit, I always look forward to reading "The Classroom" upon receiving the ABJ. Many thanks for your answers and insight.
I have a friend who constructs colloidal silver generators. He gives them away to people of interest who have various ailments, and tells me often about people who have received a new lease on life due to the taking of silver suspended in water, at very minimal cost to them. His generators, once advertised on E-bay, were removed by request of the EPA, I was told. He recommended I propose this question to you...Have you ever heard of beekeepers treating their water sources with silver to promote bee colony health? It has been proven that viruses do not grow in the presence of silver...nor does bacteria or fungi. Bob tells me it costs pennies for him to prepare his daily glass of water.
Looking forward to the next issue of ABJ, and your Classroom :)
With the love of bees in common,
Warner Springs, CA
Good Morning Richard and thank you for the Classroom vote.The first thing I think of is that silver is a metal like steel, copper or aluminum and in high doses I don’t think I want to consume a metal above my biological need for it like the iron we need for red blood cells. There is lots of anecdotal information about colloidal sliver and how it helps or hinders or does nothing in a variety of biological systems available. Remember, in the world of science correlation is not causation, meaning just because something happens in parallel with another event doesn’t mean one was the cause or result of the other. As an example, many things are said to contribute to the rise of the diagnosis of autism in the US. The rise of autism can be directly “correlated” to the growth in sales of organic produce almost exactly. And for that matter, so does the rise in the sales of HD TV’s and the number of Americans who ride their bikes to work every day. Do I personally believe any of these correlations….no, but some people do who like emotional correlations more than science and they are not causation. The European Union banned the use of colloidal silver for treatment of human disease in 2010, if memory serves me correctly. That tells you something right there.
No one has done a peer-reviewed study on the use of colloidal silver with honey bees. So, we just don’t know. Would I use it personally on my honey bees? The answer is no simply because we have approved, researched and proven products, systems and processes that have been shown to work successfully on honey bee parasites, pests and pathogens. Why fill up a honey bee with metal silver particles and not know how it affects queens, drones, larval food, foraging behavior and all the things that a honey bee colony has to do in concert to be able to prepare to survive the next winter. Might be an interesting experiment to see if you kill them or not, but that is not why we are beekeepers, I don’t think.
Q OPEN FEEDING?
As we look at all the feeder boxes we pulled off our hives, my husband asked, "Why don't people put out community feeders in their yards instead of having to fill a feeder on each hive. It would be less disruptive to the bees also." I am referring to helping the hives build up for winter. Thank you for any insight you can give us.
Eastern Missouri Beekeepers Association
“Community feeding” of apiaries can promote serious robbing and robbing can lead to loss of the weaker colonies in your apiary. Robbing does not always occur, but taking a chance on it starting is not something most beekeepers would want to risk. However, since you did not know this, your question is a perfectly logical and one that makes a lot of sense seeing how much time and labor it takes to feed each colony individually.
If your colonies are like mine, they are all separate and individual units — the sum of their bee parts, sometimes communally called a super organism. I have a small number of colonies, but enough to see that 30% are boomers, 30% are mediocre in the middle and 30% are junk. Managing each colony based on its own needs and your needs as the beekeeper is logical. Feeding is labor and resource intensive if you are looking to maximize whatever beekeeping goals you have set for this season. There are few things that are consistent among honey bee colonies, cows, chickens, the fruit trees in your yard or kids you have or have raised. They all should be treated individually because they are different and they need those slight management/attention nuances so they can achieve their genetic best.
I think you can visualize those 6 o'clock news stories where people are hungry and they have no roads and the helicopters swoop in laden with food and water and blankets. Notice they never land. That is because the biggest, strongest, toughest individuals will engulf the helicopter and not only take the food but destroy the helicopter and its crew. So, the helicopter hovers and pushes the food out where the biggest, strongest, toughest take control of this resource. Hopefully they are also empathetic and the smallest, hungriest and weakest get some too.
The same thing happens if you open-feed your honey bees. The 30% that are boomers will dominate and take as much as they can. They are not empathetic. The 30% in the middle will get less and the 30% that are weak get very little if any. Instead of the 30% of boomers deciding who gets what, you the beekeeper need to manage the 30% in the middle and the 30% that are weak and make those decisions with certain management techniques that can make them also become boomers. That means feeding, treating and doing all the other stuff
To get the best results from your colonies, you, the Beekeeper Manager, have to make decisions for each colony as a separate unit based on what you see when you open each colony. You need to assess things like: What season is it? What your Varroa sampling shows? Is the queen laying? And, the dozens of other inputs you get from the colony. It isn’t easy and the more colonies you get, the harder this gets, but it is the best way to manage for success.
Q HONEY CRYSTALLIZATION
I run a pumpkin patch in central Minnesota and I sell most of my honey in my serve-yourself pumpkin stand. I am having some trouble with honey starting to crystallize. I presume from the outdoor temperatures? Any ideas? Is there a temperature that I need to stay above or below to keep my honey from looking bad?
Thanks much, love your articles,
Here is a slightly longish Jerry answer. Honey is a super-saturated sugar solution. All honey sugar profiles are slightly different because each flower produces nectar with different sugar ratios. So, when you have a naturally blended product as honey bee foragers visit and collect a variety of nectars, there is large variability. The ratios of the sugars fructose and glucose determine how fast the honey granulates or crystallizes. Some honeys do not granulate at all because these ratios are already balanced. Honey crystallization is a normal, natural process and is actually encouraged in many parts of the world since it makes eating and using honey easier when it is a semi-solid.
To balance itself in this super-saturated solution (honey), the glucose will precipitate out and form sugar crystals. Fructose is more water soluble, so it stays in solution. Temperature also influences how fast this sugar balancing/crystallization takes place. A temperature between 52 and 59 degrees F encourages crystallization. Below 52F, even to freezing, crystallization slows. Above 77 degrees F crystallization slows as well. Above about 100 degrees F the honey degrades and produces off flavor and color chemicals.
Sorry the honey looks bad, but this might be a consumer education process as this indicates a pure natural process. And, if you wanted to take advantage of this natural process, you could produce your own wonderful crystallized honey spread. Search up "Dyce Process" on the internet. In the meantime, if you want to reliquefy this honey, a hot water bath in a large pot with the honey still in jars will be needed. Not boiling, but about 100 F to 125 F with a quick heat up and fast cool down so the honey does not degrade, darken and taste poorly.
Jerry— have you seen this you-tube film? www.robobees.info
Did the AgChem companies actually partner with Greenpeace to produce this or is it a blatant poke at the companies? Maybe you can help me out with wrapping my head around the politics here— hope all is well with you.
It was produced by Greenpeace. There is an actual lab at Harvard working on ‘robo bees’, but I think it’s more of a robotics/engineering goal than a ‘replace pollinators’ goal. Activists seized on this and have used it to claim big ag is behind it all. Everybody has an agenda. Agendas are great, but truthful agendas are better. And then, there are agendas designed for fund raising.
Just an FYI. Back in the 1960s, a French Marxist-turned-devout-Catholic theologian named Jacques Ellul wrote a book entitled “Propaganda.” One of the many points he made from his research was that the more educated you are, the more susceptible you are to propaganda. It flies in the face of what we might normally believe – that the less educated are more susceptible.
His point was that the more educated you are, the more you depend upon what you read and the more you are shaped by your worldview. The less educated you are, the more you depend upon your own direct experiences. So, I guess ...
The Classroom January 2015
by Jerry Hayes
Q Small Hive Beetle Control
Jerry….. I am looking to make some small hive beetle (SHB) traps and use Checkmite. We need a smaller/different sized strip. I am looking for someone at Bayer to contact and see if it’s possible and the cost involved. It would be a large-scale project.
Hey Charles, are you sure you want to put more organophosphates in a honey bee colony? SHB do not necessarily stay in the trap on contact with the pesticide until they die. Many times they venture out again and spread pesticides around within the colony as it is on their bodies/feet. This doesn't sound like a plan to me.
However, if you still think this is a good idea, contact Dick Rogers at Bayer: Dick.Rogers@bayer.com.
Comment from Charles
Thanks Jerry. It’s a mixed bag of problems—that’s for sure. It’s the lesser of two evils. I have been using beetle barns with Checkmite for a couple years and not seeing residue in the wax yet (tiny, tiny amount tracked out), but I am losing hives to beetles. Most beetle barns have dead beetles in them indicating they don’t go far to die.
The other option is Fipronil, which doesn’t seem to be attractive to beetles (tested this summer very few dead). The Aussies have a Fipronil trap that works well—unfortunately, it is not registered for approval here. With that trap they have shown (I haven’t seen the data but the Ausssie government did) that the Fipronil stayed in the trap.
Unfortunately, oil trays and the other traps are just not effective enough on a large scale--and a pain to use. Exploring it a bit, I have a plan to keep the beetles pretty much in the trap. I am still pondering how to monitor that though.
Thanks for the update Charles. Small hive beetles (SHB) don’t take down strong, active and vital honey bee colonies. Anything which causes the colony population to slowly or quickly decline makes it attractive to SHB. Honey bees, as you know, produce an alarm pheromone when colony structure and organization fall apart. SHB can pick up this pheromone from miles away and then fly to the site.
You need a bee on every inch of comb. There are many ways to achieve this like removing boxes and crowding bees together until you can get Varroa, disease or queen issues fixed. I’d rather try other means first before adding more pesticides to the colony environment.
Comment from Charles
With much due respect, I sincerely believe you are wrong. (I’m writing an article for Bee Culture on this topic) In my yards this year beetles did in fact take down strong hives. When they reach a threshold level, they are successfully laying in capped brood. For the last few years I too was treating them as a pest and working on colony strength. This season I opened my eyes a bit.
Several queen-right healthy hives were hit this year. Yes, I am sure at some level there were problems. I am also sure that the beetles are reproducing even in strong hives. Unfortunately, European bees do not attack adult beetles very hard, and they do not attack hatched beetle larvae at all. With the right soil and weather conditions, this is a huge problem as the beetles are breeding like mites--very rapidly. At some point, they are like lions on an elephant--unusual, but capable.
Charles, remember that I was the Chief of the Apiary Section of Florida when small hive beetles (SHB) became a real concern in that subtropical climate. They loved everything about Florida. In surveys we could trap 500 SHB one night and 500 the next night and on and on! SHB target colonies stressed from other causes that don't have enough bees to protect the colony. When that is the condition, the SHB females start laying eggs because they have an advantage. It is as simple as that.
Why your colonies can't protect themselves is really a management issue for you. Don't blame SHB; they are just taking advantage of a situation that allows them to use your colony as a SHB nursery. You can have a honey bee on every inch of comb by removing or adding boxes. If they are queen-right, have few varroa and no discernible diseases or population losses from a variety of inputs, then it is difficult if not impossible for SHB to get a foothold. You are the manager and need to look, discern and act at the right time. You can do it without adding too many chemicals which are additional big time stressors and disrupt and weaken a colony making it even more attractive to SHB. It is a continuous vicious cycle.
Your column in ABJ is what makes me want to continue my subscription. Thank you for all your hard work and your sense of humor.
What stops the fermentation process when honey bees make bee bread in the brood chamber? Does it run out of
Wow, thank you Don for the compliment. I think I should probably stop now before you change your mind!
The fermentation process stops in bee bread for the same the reason the fermentation stops in wine, or cheese or sauerkraut. Food nutrition runs out for the bacteria or yeast to access and then their own by-products i.e. lactic acid or alcohol in the case of wine /beer etc. is a toxin for their continued reproduction. So add the two together, food runs out and toxic by-products, and fermentation stops.
Q Wax Moths
This a picture of a bottom board below a screen bottom that was left for about a year unknown to me. It looks like wax moths but they are really small. They have made tunnels all through the board.
Can you determine by the pictures if this is wax moth? Can they enter the hive through the screen bottom? It has gotten too cold to open the hive to see if they are there.
It sure looks like wax moth larvae to me. They do not eat much beeswax, but rather the stuff we would call debris on the bottom board and, of course, old beeswax comb that contains the real food, which are larval skins shed during the pupation process. They can't digest beeswax very well and there is very little direct nutrition in it. But, the larval skins shed and then left behind in the cells that make the comb darker over time do have nutrition for them. They create the webbing you see, sometimes called frass, which they use to make tunnels and protect themselves.
Wax moths females will walk directly into a colony at night and if ...
The Classroom December 2014
by Jerry Hayes
Q Drawing Out Foundation
When is the best time to put the queen excluder on? I've heard you have to make sure the queen gets her pheromones on the foundation. The thinking is that the workers would not move up in to the supers (above the queen excluder) to draw out the comb.
The queen excluder would go on anytime that you don't want the queen going up into the super to lay eggs. Her pheromones are not applied directly to foundation in order to lure young workers to draw out foundation into comb. Comb is drawn based on the early spring rapid colony growth as the days grow longer and the population size increases. The colony starts on the next cycle of getting ready to spread its genetics around by swarming and the journey to the next winter and maximum storage of honey as their only food supply through winter. Temperate zone evolved honey bees are always only concerned with two things: 1) Being sure the species is sustainable (swarming) and 2) the next winter.
Comb building is a process that needs: 1) Lots of young wax-producing worker honey bees; 2) Lots of high sugar content nectar to fuel the production of beeswax; 3) A place to build comb.
One of the problems sometimes is that at a certain level honey bees don't like to travel through the excluder. One way around this during a honey flow is to establish another entrance above the excluder into the super(s). A large percentage of the forager population will choose to use this entrance and bypass the longer route of the bottom entrance carrying nectar collected up to transfer to those young bees making wax and building comb in the super(s). It is a quicker route and process with an entrance above the excluder.
Q Sugar Syrup Fermenting
Can sucrose solution which has begun to ferment be used to feed the bees in autumn if the solution is first boiled to remove the alcohol? If so, how long must it be boiled?
Ultimately, it depends on if it is beer-level alcohol or moonshine 90 proof! I would heat it until the alcohol smell is gone. Remember, alcohol’s boiling point is less than water, so it doesn't have to be heated at 212 degrees F., but it might not hurt to bring it to a temporary boil to kill the yeast that started this fermentation process. Just don’t boil it too long or you can create harmful products in the syrup like hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) (an indicator for excess heat-treatment).
Q Honey Storage Pattern
This year for the first time ever, seven of the nine super frames (looking at the tops) appeared to be beautifully filled and sealed. However, when I removed them, all the frames had sealed honey on the sides and top, and the center of the frames was absolutely empty. The queen had not laid there either, so it wasn’t brood using that space. My bee library does not provide an answer. Do you have one, or is it just an unexplainable anomaly? The honey return was only about two-thirds or less for each super.
Dr. Robert Hough
Beaver Falls, Pa
It takes “X” number of honey bees and “X” number of nectar-producing flowers to allow the “surplus” nectar to be deposited in awaiting cells. If you don't have enough bees to collect enough surplus nectar or plenty of foragers, but not enough flowers to produce enough nectar, then in both situations nothing is stored. It may have started out good, but dropped off for any combination of those reasons.
The centers of the frames may have been filled with brood earlier in the season, but after that brood hatched, the queen may have cut back on her egg laying or moved to a different hive body, so those cells were not reused for brood. In addition, the honey flows may have dried up so they were not refilled with nectar either.
Hang in there! It is still fun and I'll bet the honey stored was still delicious.
I see a lot of feral bees recovering in North Carolina. I do a lot of removals here. I hive and relocate them. I never treat them and I don't lose that many to mites. I lose more to chemicals being sprayed in agricultural areas than anything else. As far as neonicotinoids are concerned, haven't they been banned in Europe because of their damage to honey bees there? Also, don't you work for a chemical company, so could your opinions be somewhat influenced.
I work for Monsanto now and this is a company that primarily sells seed and herbicides, such as Roundup. The company also purchases neonicotinoids from other manufacturers and applies them to some of the seeds that our company produces and then offers for sale to farmers. Virtually all seed companies do that same thing because these products provide exceptional control of some very challenging pests, especially in corn production.
Neonicotinoids have been banned in Europe, but it is certainly not clear to me that this was the right decision. There is a lot of research done that when peer reviewed is considered flawed and untruthful. The EU situation is the same. Politicians responded to voters who have been convinced and manipulated by clubs, associations, and organizations that use ignorance as a way to make fund-raising appeals. Many times this junk science is embraced by some clubs and organizations to add to their fund-raising agenda for support.
We, the public, are emotionally manipulated so much because we/me/you can’t know everything, so depend on “trusted” sources. Be careful of the trusted source. Trust but verify. I just received a paper that said farmers in the UK were being devastated by ‘flea beetles’ on canola. They were not able use to use neonicotinoids that had been effective. Now they have to use chemistry that is 20-25 years old and much harsher to bees and the environment. There are always trade-offs.
I joined Monsanto a couple years ago because I felt this was a company that showed the capability to make a difference on the most important challenge we face, among many, in the honey bee industry. Effective varroa control has been a growing problem for 30 years and we have made very little progress toward obtaining a real solution. I decided to try a new approach. Monsanto is researching new solutions that I believe could be important in finally turning the tide on varroa. That’s why I am here, advocating for the bee industry and offering my experience and advice to the researchers involved in this effort.
Go to the Bee Informed Partnership website, www.beeinformed.org and look at the multiple year survey questions and answers.
Jerry, has Apivar (amitraz) been tested for leaving residues in the colony/beeswax? I am thinking about using it for my winter Varroa treatment, if needed, beginning in the later part of January here in SC due to the temperatures. If I put it in the later part of January, it will just make the 42 day/6-week period prior to the nectar flow starting around the first of April by about two to three weeks, which is the time frame they recommend it being out of the colony prior to the honey supers going on.
One of the advantages of amitraz is that it degrades/breaks down much more quickly than some of the other 'strip' miticide formulations. But, it also takes a bit longer to control varroa as well. And, as a side note, it seems to be more toxic to queens. This is why we need to figure out a non-chemical way to control Varroa. Everything is a trade-off, Dave.
Q Bee School
I have an interesting situation I got myself into and I would like your advice. I offer Bee School 101 to raise money for charity. I do a bee-talk and hive visit as an auction item. I have always done the visits in the spring. This year, the folks just let me know last month, so I tentatively set the date for beginning of October when the Apiguard comes off. They just invited two more people, so now, four adults. Of course, they are interested in bees and possibly getting into beekeeping.
I visited my hives yesterday and I was stung three times on my foot in the back of the hive while I adjusted the screen closure for the bottom board. I was in street clothes and open shoes. No big deal—I’ll count these as my therapeutic stings for the season. But now I'm thinking that a hive visit with non-beekeepers is foolish in the fall. The bees are more defensive and you can't linger. I wonder if I should postpone for the spring and make sure everyone is suited up? I'm helping a friend with her hives tomorrow and maybe they are nicer than mine, but I'm thinking this defensiveness is a fall condition. What do you think?
Generally, it is not so much seasonal as it is
The Classroom November 2014
by Jerry Hayes
Q Bees Collecting Honey Dew
I am in NW Tennessee. I was having trouble with my phone line and decided to walk to the mailbox and check the line also. I came up to a pecan tree and it had a buzz like a swarm! I walked around the tree, shaded my eyes but couldn't t see flying bees right off. But after close observation, both honey bees and bumble bees were working on the leaves and I have never seen this before. Is this common?
You may have heard about a very small insect called an aphid. It is one of the few insects that like honey bees have some level of sociality; meaning they like to live together. Aphids feed on plant sap. The leaves are the thinnest part so allow the piercing mouth parts of the aphid to access the fluid in the leaves. This sap is very thin and of very low nutritional value, especially protein. An individual aphid has to process a lot of sap to get the nutrition it requires. The aphid’s digestive system is almost a straight tube from the mouth to the anus, the excretory end. Because the volume of sap processed is so great, most of it is expelled. And most of it has lots of sugars in it that the aphid simply can’t utilize, so it is expelled on the leaf surface.
This is where the ‘sociality’ part comes in. Put hundreds or thousands of aphids on a leaf and then multiply those by all the leaves on a tree and that is a lot of sugary aphid excretion, sometimes called honey dew. This is a food resource that is easy to collect and has food value for all sorts of insects, ‘bees’ included, but also ants and some small mammals, fungus and yeast etc.
Honey bees and their cousins land on the leaves, lick up the sugary aphid excrement and bring it back to the colony to be used immediately or stored if the volume is great enough. It isn’t really honey because it isn’t nectar from flowering plants collected by the bees, brought back and turned into or stored as honey. This material is from another insect, the aphid. In Germany, as an example, there is a lucrative market for this special material, honey dew honey, that is collected by honey bees from the Black Forest region and extracted and packaged in jars just like real honey. It has a unique taste, color and odor and is prized by some.
The short story is that honey bees and bumble bees are simply collecting an easy sugar-based food resource deposited by aphids on the leaf surface.
Q Pressure-treated Lumber; Placing Beeswax in Your Smoker; and Bee Aggression
1. My first question concerns the recent discussion of using pressure-treated wood (PTW) in beehives. I have been using PTW for my hive stands and the 2x4 hive support-frame that the bottom board sits on. I have had no problem with these, but they are painted. Wouldn't painting PTW help to seal in the toxins and prevent the bees from contacting it?
2. Is it okay to use beeswax in my smoker to help keep it going? When I started beekeeping, I read many books and none mentioned dropping in a little ball of beeswax to help keep your fuel burning. Jamie Ellis' article, in the May issue of ABJ, had a good discussion of smokers, and a couple of excellent tips, but he did not mention using beeswax to keep it going. Pine needles for fuel are often mentioned, but never beeswax. So, is this just too obvious to mention, or is there some problem with using beeswax? Perhaps it gums up the smoker? Or perhaps burning beeswax is not calming to the bees?
3. And finally, what are the elements that affect the mood of a hive? Because of bears, I have my hive on the roof of my house. This spring for about 3 weeks, I could not work in my backyard without a veil because a 1/2 dozen bees would get into my face. It appeared to be one hive in particular, and I made plans to requeen in spite of the fact that it was a very productive hive. But before I could get a queen, the problem seemed to take care of itself. So I guess my question is: What are the elements that would cause one hive to become aggressive when the others don't appear to be?
1. Letting the wood breathe, dry down and weather for a few weeks or more is a good idea for the use that is going to be close to or in contact with honey bees. Painting is good as well after drying down and off gassing to seal anything else in.
2. Beeswax is highly flammable and once it gets going, it is almost impossible to put out. It doesn’t smolder; it burns really well. That is why it is used to help start fires for camping or fireplaces. Don’t put it in a smoker unless you want a flame thrower.
3. Remember that honey bee queens will mate with 20+ or so drones and store that sperm in convoluted layers for later use. This diverse genetic nature of multiple drone matings is why honey bees are survivors since each drone brings unique genetics to the colony. Some of these genetics are good and some from other drones are considered bad or unhelpful. Depending on the drone sperm ‘layer’ the queen is accessing to fertilize eggs to produce workers, a drone could have carried a gene for more heightened defensive characteristics. Once the queen used up that sperm from the drone with the grumpy gene and another different drone’s sperm was accessed, then the attitude of the workers produced would have changed as well.
Q Do Wet Supers Attract Small Hive Beetles?
Thanks for all you do for us beekeepers. When I am done extracting my honey supers, I stack them wet in a barn with moth crystals on them. But this year I am seeing more and more hive beetles. Will these wet honey supers be fine with the moth crystals on them? The only honey that is in them is what is left from extracting. My question is: Will the hive beetle come in and mess up my honey supers with what little honey is left on them?
Wet supers are very attractive to small hive beetles (SHB) Steve. They smell like a disrupted honey bee colony ready to be used as a SHB nursery. Can you stack them outside away from your colonies to discourage robbing for a couple days and let the bees clean them up? They benefit from the easy nutrition and you benefit from dry supers. SHB attraction decreases and then you can store them as you have been.
Q Supering for Maximum Honey Production
My honey production is very good this year, in spite of the fact that I had to leave my hives for two months in the middle of the nectar flow. About two weeks after the main flow started, I stacked two to four additional supers on each hive. Some of the supers had drawn comb; others were only foundation. With the additional supers, the hives ended up taller than I am with eight or nine supers.
This experiment has had ...
The Classroom October 2014
by Jerry Hayes
Q Other Visitors
I make my own screened bottom boards specifically designed to provide 75% bottom board and 25% screen, which prevents all the dropped pollen and wax scales from falling into the tray, which otherwise would result in significant loss for the bees. This system has produced very strong, productive hives with a 95% reduction in small hive beetles without chemicals. The bees also seemed to have learned to push debris, worm larvae, etc., into the areas in the bottom board that are cut out for the screen. The beetles and debris fall through the screen,leaving the rest of the floor neat and clean for the working bees.
Anyway, I use standard cafeteria trays beneath the screened bottom boards ($2.00 each), which work great and because they are white, they provide an excellent background for viewing what falls through (unlike black trays normally used in commercial beetle trap trays).
I have noticed in the oil tremendous numbers of tiny black insects--some of which resemble microscopic ants, and some which look like very tiny winged gnats.
I never knew hives could be plagued by these very tiny insects. Is this normal? Are these insects doing any significant harm?
Have you sent any samples to your state entomologist for ID? They certainly could be ants or small flies. This would not be unusual.
As you have discovered, there is a lot of debris that is generated within a colony of honey bees. That is why small hive beetles, dermestid beetles, ants and flies, etc. are attracted to a bee hive because the odors it emits—bee bread fermenting, honey ripening, bees dying from the colony—these all can produce additional trash/garbage which is attractive as a food source for many organisms. Now add in some type of vegetable oil which can be a ‘food’ item when fresh or as it degrades and becomes rancid (it has larval skins, small hive beetles, flies, ants, other insects, honey bees, pollen, bee bread and who knows what else in it and this becomes a very attractive ‘buffet’ for lots of things including skunks and raccoons).
An opinion is like a nose, and here is mine. I think the oil and the hive debris in the oil are attractants to some insects for food and reproductive reasons. And when they go to access the ‘food’ you have provided, they get stuck in the ‘buffet’ oil. (Kind of like the La Brea Tar Pits that caught Mammoths and Saber Tooth Tigers)
How are you doing these days? I am sending along an email received from my friend here on the Gaspe’ Coast, an outstanding artist and naturalist, John Wiseman. I was wondering what your read is on the subject of the use of neonicotinoids. Is there definitive proof of their destruction of the bee colonies or is it still subject to question, etc.? I don’t see any honey bees on the fields of clover anymore. (So sad)
I have heard recently of an international study concerning the uses of neonicotinoids (not sure if I have that spelling right), as an insecticide and its deleterious effect on bee populations the world over. This type of systemic insecticide has now been proven not only to be quite possibly the main reason for bee population collapse, but it is also having a dire effect on fish and birds. Well, surprise, surprise. Researchers have been warning of the potential neonicotinoids for years, but no one is listening and one can bet that in the meantime the big tobacco producers are rubbing their hands together with glee. The researchers have gone so far as to declare that the use of neonicotinoids could be as much as 10,000 — that’s ten thousand times — worse than DDT!
The list of problems with honey bees starts with
1) an introduced parasite called the Varroa mite which came from Asia and was first reported in the US in 1987. Our European-derived honey bees are unadapted to the Varroa mite and as such, the mite is a bad parasite because it kills its host, our honey bee. Make a fist and place it somewhere on your body. Proportionately, this is how big a Varroa mite is to a honey bee’s body. It is a huge parasite sucking the bee’s blood and vectoring viruses, etc. Varroa is everywhere and approx. 95% of the wild /feral colonies that were living in a tree or wall of a barn, etc. are gone…dead. So, you are right, unless you have a beekeeper around you someplace, you don’t see too many honey bees.
2) Varroa mites transmit viruses to honey bees which cause disease--kind of like mosquitoes on us that transmit viral diseases.
3) With the growth of suburbia, roads, malls and agriculture, there simply are not as many wild blooming plants that provide pollen and nectar.
4) The crazy thing about Varroa mites is when they came on the stage, the only thing beekeepers were given to control them were pesticides. Pesticides are introduced into honey bee colonies to kill a little bug (varroa) on a big bug (honey bee) and there is collateral damage, of course.
And then, there are others pesticides used by homeowners, golf courses, road sides and in agriculture that, if honey bees are exposed, may result in death. Neonicotinoids (more commonly referred to as “Neo-nics”) are a very minor part of the threat to honey bees, but the public has been sensitized that these chemicals are bad. When applied as seed treatments where the seeds are planted in the ground, the exposure at the early stage of plant growth is limited to the insect pests in the soil and later to those eating on the foliage of the plant – thus the term “systemic insecticide”. This targeted application results in extremely low exposure to all other living organisms including honey bees, fish, birds, dogs, cats, cows and people. In addition to limited exposure, neo-nics also have low toxicity to mammals and have become widely used as replacements for more toxic chemistries. They have incredibly low mammalian toxicity which makes them safe for us. Neo-nics are effective insect killers and if you improperly use them, they can kill honey bees, but when used as seed treatments, there is no credible evidence that they are the main reason for bee population collapse. The bottom line is that label directions must be followed and Best Management Practices should be used 100% of the time.
Q Gluten-Free Honey ... What!!
I have a friend with a small farm stand on the east end of Long Island, New York. A customer asked him if honey is or can be Gluten free. I told him I didn’t known, but knew how to find out. I have read the American Bee Journal for years, “The Classroom” first. So now you have been enlisted to solve the mystery.
Thanks in Advance,
You have a first to add to your bucket list John. You are the first to ask me about Gluten-free honey!
The Classroom September 2014
by Jerry Hayes
Q Bee Chemistry
I have a bee chemistry question for you. Each year, we feed our bees large quantities of sugar syrup. Sugar is sucrose--a disaccharide. Honey contains glucose--a monosaccharide. My question is this: Can honey bees digest the sugar syrup directly or do they have to break it down using some enzyme in their body? If that is the case, would it be healthier to feed the bees surplus or old honey when their supply is low. Enjoy your articles! I’ve been keeping bees since 1949.
Yes Hugh, the bees invert the disaccharide sucrose (2 sugars bonded together, fructose and glucose) sugar to a simpler form--a monosaccharide (1 sugar by itself) of just fructose or glucose by adding enzymes. It does take energy for the honey bee to produce the enzymes. That is why feeding (disease free) natural honey or fructose itself is better because they do not require the conversion from a di(2)saccharide sugar to a mono(1)saccharide sugar.
Q Critters in the Barn
I am keeping all my beekeeping “stuff” at home in my garage. I have been driving out to a new location (45 min) to the bees. I want to move all my beekeeping equipment to an old barn out in the woods that is much closer to my new location. The barn is not in perfect shape. It has a good roof, but critters can come in. I would share the space with medical billing records. It’s amazing how many critters there are in the woods! We forget how buggy the world is when we live in suburbia. What issues will I have if I keep all my equipment out in an old barn? I figure you have seen it all visiting apiaries in Florida! Thanks again.
St. Louis, MO
If I can assume that the old barn is porous, then you will have some visitors/residents in supers and hive bodies. You live in a house that is nice and secure from the elements--your food is protected, you don’t have birds, rodents, roaches, raccoons and on and on. Well, out of suburbia mice, rats, wax moths, roaches, dermestid beetles and innumerable other creatures are looking for a nice secure home too. It is tough to protect drawn comb unless you seal it up in some big tub or tote with some wax moth repellent (paradichlorobenzene). Mice and rats will nest in unprotected equipment. All this to say that you can store stuff here, but it takes some forethought and planning. Your garage or basement would be better. However, as you indicate, it is farther away from your new apiary, so is not as convenient.
Q Vaporize Them
I have read several articles about Varroa Mite Vaporizers that use 12 Volts DC for heat. What are your thoughts or experience with these? Thank you for your time to answer this question
Merl from OK
Vaporizing requires another piece of equipment and your car battery that heats up crystals that volatilize into toxic acid vapors that you gas the colony with to kill, hurt, damage a little bug (varroa) on a big bug (honey bee). You have to wear a respirator, eye protection, a long-sleeved shirt and long pants, so you don’t have acid burns in your lungs or on your skin or eyes. Then, you must also consider how this product will hurt the bees with similar acid burns on their antennae, eyes, wings, mouths and more?
Since vaporizing mite-killing chemicals in the hive with an electric vaporizer to control varroa is not an EPA-approved varroa control method in the United States, I do not recommend it. There are several safer, government-approved and effective varroa-control products on the market. Why not use them?
Q More European Drones to Control Africanization?
I have been wondering for a while if it would lower African bee populations if we put a capped European drone frame into every hive in which we installed a new queen.
Could we flood the mating areas with gentle bees and reduce African genetics? Has any research gone into this?
That is what they tried in Brazil in 1959 and subsequently in several other countries. Hasn’t happened yet. Defensive trait dilution could help if you could get enough European honey bee (EHB) drones to consistently compete against African honey bee (AHB) drones. Because AHB will swarm 15-20 times a year, under good conditions, they contribute lots of drones to DCA’s (Drone Congregation Areas) and can dominate the breeding scheme. They not only breed with AHB virgins, but also with EHB virgins and mixed genetic populations. Over time they actually will refine and stabilize the local genetics to a point where the population of honey bees is predominately AHB.
AHB are a super bee. Not nice or safe, but a dominant survivor in the tropics and subtropics.
Q Queen Laying Eggs on Bee Bread
I installed a nuc two weeks ago and I have noticed that the queen is laying on top of cells that are already half filled with pollen. So, I replaced a couple frames with just foundation with frames that had empty comb in order to give her more room to lay. Will this solve the problem?
Also, even with the upper entrance blocked, my bees are still packing pollen into the supers. Is there a way to discourage them from this behavior? I would prefer they kept it for themselves in the brood box.
Your column is fantastic; thanks for all the great information.
Are you sure that the queen was laying in cells with pollen/bee bread? That would be almost impossible given how a queen selects a cell to lay in. But.....Yes, having emptier comb will give her room to lay if they are honey- or pollen-bound.
So much of honey bee foraging behavior is a blend of what is available and what they are genetically programmed to seek. It can be a bit of a balancing game based on what flowers are blooming and then what proportion of nectar and pollen they are offering to pollinators with what the colony developmental needs are and what the bees “like” to collect--some bees picking one over the other.
Our European genetically based honey bees are always preparing for winter, so they collect what they can, regardless of where in the colony it can be stored. So, for right now there is lots of pollen, lots of foragers that want to collect it and a place in the colony to store it. The supers just happen to be the place. Not your fault.
About the only thing you can do is take the supers off and hope you can guess when the next bloom period might produce nectar to be stored to put them back on. If you were producing comb honey for your own use, a little high-protein pollen mixed in with your comb honey would not necessarily be a bad thing if you enjoyed the combination.
Remember, if beekeeping were easy, everybody would be doing it.
Q Queen Cell Surgery
Jerry, here is my question: Can you successfully cut out a well-developed queen cell from plastic foundation? (My friend does not want me to take and replace the frame). I suppose asking why is the better question!
Tell your friend to lighten up as you only need the frame for a week or less, depending on how far development of the queen is along and you’ll bring it back.
Remember, that if it is a natural queen cell produced from what was going to be originally a horizontal worker cell on the comb face, the colony had to somehow transition from horizontal to a vertical cell position. They do this by copiously feeding the selected larva a lot...
The Classroom August 2014
by Jerry Hayes
I’m sure this is a new one for you. I give my racing pigeons a product called Primalac Pigeon. It helps prevent E. coli and salmonella by providing helpful bacteria. It’s a water soluble powder (1 tsp per gallon). If I put this in the bees’ outdoor water source, do you think it would benefit the bees?
Ingredients: Lactobacillus acidophilus fermentation product dehydrated Lactobacillus casei fermentation product, Bifidobacterium thermophilum fermentation product dehydrated, dextrose and citric acid.
This is not really that new. The racing pigeon part is new and sounds pretty cool. There has been lots of interest the last several years, especially due to the loss of honey bee health in general on the ‘nutrition’ component of honey bee health. Do a search on ‘fermented’ diets and the honey bee gut micro-biome and you will come up with lots of interesting information.
Jack, you and I have more organisms living in our intestines than one can imagine. They do the majority of food digestion for us and out compete bad bacteria, provide a healthy gut pH and even make vitamins for us. If you watch any TV at all, there is a solid advertising effort to sell us Pro-Biotics in the form of capsules or yogurt or kefir to introduce a continuous supply of good bacteria to us for improved health. Honey bees don’t eat pollen; they eat bee bread, which is a fermentation product of pollen. Think yogurt again.
You are on the right track. What I cannot say in fact is if the pigeon product is good for honey bees, bad for honey bees or will have no value. My guess is that if fed directly, it probably won’t kill them. Putting it in an outdoor water sources is a bit iffy because UV may destroy the organisms and/or allow the harmful bacteria, fungi and yeast in the outdoor water source to eat these as food, etc.
Q Continuously Expanding Brood Nest
I appreciate reading The Classroom each month. I’ve picked up a number of principles that have been useful to my beekeeping. In the June 2014 edition you mentioned a “continuously expanding brood nest” technique. I googled that term and found information about checkerboarding, and unlimited broodnest management. Are these the principles you are referring to? Or is “continuously expanding brood nest” a separate concept?
Nothing is really new in beekeeping Pete. Our smart forebearer beekeepers had a lot of stuff figured out. So, yes these are similar to what I do, but with certain twists and turns that just complicate the goal I think.
The goal in this more intensive management process is to simply give the queen as much room to lay in the “brood” area, whatever combinations of boxes and sizes you pick. Unclog the brood area and worker brood production goes up so populations go up. Unclog the brood nest and swarming declines because brood pheromone concentrations are one signal that the colony is populous enough to swarm (reproduce). Unclog the brood nest and nectar collection goes up in parallel with forager population increase. This requires more equipment.
All you are doing is moving late stage larvae and capped brood frames above the permanent brood area into another box separated by a queen excluder and replacing those frames you moved up with frames with empty open comb. Then keep doing this. As brood emerges in the frames, you have moved up, rotate those back down as those brood frames below become full of brood are moved up.
Supers can be placed on top of this stack and if Varroa is under control and diseases are absent, then you have met the population parameters to collect and produce a lot of honey. It is just a management manipulation game, but does require more beekeeper work.
I’ve been thinking through various implications of this practice, and I think I’ll give it a try. I think that the bees will tend to store the honey in supers (and not in the brood box above the excluder) as long as that box is managed intensively to keep it full of brood. I’m excited to see what happens.
Q Too Much Bee Bread and Nectar
The bees in my yard are flying and robust as yours must be too. However, bees in one hive must have flown to Colorado for Cannabis... A single super was put on top in April. Since this hive was strong, there was no need for inspecting the hive. Then about a month later I added another super. Ten days later the second one, which was on top, was inspected. There was nectar in all 9 frames. Last week the bottom super was inspected for the first time. I was shocked to discover much beebread in the frames (~30%) and capped honey (~10%). It may have been due to 50% of top deep frames only having foundation. Just a guess...
So, how can the beebread, nectar and honey be removed from this weird situation?
Rocky Mountain High....Dude.
But seriously, when there are a lot of easy resources coming in, the colony will store anything anywhere in the most convenient place because they “know” it won’t last and even now they are preparing for winter. Perhaps this is similar to humans. We may not need all the soft drinks, pretzels and mashed potatoes right now, but genetically our bodies know from a historical standpoint that there will be lean times, so we store all this stuff as “fat” in our belly, hips, back, face, etc.
Sometimes this is called being “honey bound or pollen bound.” All reasonable space is used to store food coming in. This does restrict the queen from laying and is a signal to the colony that it might be a good time to asexually reproduce (swarm) as conditions look good for a swarm to successfully survive and prepare for the coming winter.
All that to say you need to provide empty combs for the queen. If you don’t have any and they haven’t drawn out foundation, you can take some of the frames with a majority of nectar/honey out and place them 40-50 yards away and let the colonies rob them out. (Be careful not to do this during a dearth since it could cause mass robbing of your weaker colonies.) This creates empty comb and the resources have not been wasted, just transferred. Beebread will not be removed this way, but maybe you will need it when the queen starts laying again and brood needs to be fed. If you really need to get rid of it, cut or scrape the comb down to almost the mid-rib and disturb, mess up the beebread, then it might be removed as junk.This is a good problem to have Ken. However, from a beekeeper management standpoint, it slows things down.
The Classroom July 2014
by Jerry Hayes
Comment - Kathy
We are all so sorry to hear of the passing of your wife, Kathy. We are a beekeeping community and when one of us suffers, it reverberates throughout the industry. Heartfelt condolences to you and your family. I once read When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold Kushner. He talked about what to do when someone you know experiences a terrible loss like you have. Words present a challenge; we know we can’t say enough to comfort you. Kushner says to just be there - be supportive, be present, be around when times get tough or lonely. Jerry, your beekeeping friends are here to hold you up. We appreciate what you do for bees and beekeepers and we are here to continue working together to make the world a better place for bees. Hang in there.
Project Apis m.
Thank you Christi. I thought I was tough and in control and Master and Commander. It all changed pretty quickly. Sometimes the testosterone is flowing and my game face is on. And at other times a sound or a song or a situation will make my eyes well up--which I think is a good thing. I have had to get up and excuse myself from some business meetings here, but that is life and perhaps recognition of the importance of life. We all have various families. We have our Biological Family and maybe a Church Family, Work Family, or Club Family, but next to Kathy, and our children, and Aunts, Uncles, Brothers, Sisters, the Beekeeping Family is truly amazing. I have been contacted by so many I have known for years like you and others from all over the world who I have no idea who they are, but all have reached out and offered sincere support and encouragement and love.
It is pretty amazing. I guess if I were to give some free advice at this time, it would be don’t take the love of a spouse or friend or acquaintance lightly as it can change dramatically in a short time. And as much as you think you are ready, you are not if True Love is there. So, be aware, be grateful and find your husband, wife, parent, friend or….the person in line behind you in Wal-Mart and give them a hug, no matter how much it may surprise them. We have a picture kind of a thing in our house that says, “Life is a Journey and Love Makes it Worthwhile”. Make it worthwhile. You have for me by simply reaching out. Thank you and I would give you a hug if you were close by. Next meeting OK?
Q Managing Bees in a Building
Just received May’s issue and noticed the article on the Historic Illinois Bee Castle in Taylorville, IL.I am wondering that if one were to raise bees in a structure like that, would your overwinter survival rate be better? Also, when you are working the hives and bees start flying around in an enclosed structure, how would they get back home?
I live in Elgin, IL and my winter colony survival rate here is at best 40%. Are there more people out there doing this? Need more research.
The first thing I read is your articles on Q&A; keep up the good work.
Having colonies inside a building with an outside entrance or on an enclosed wagon/trailer type arrangement was very typical and still is to some degree in Europe now and for the last 100-150 years or so. This extended on a moderate scale into the US and Canada, mostly from immigrant beekeepers. This was a way to keep control of valuable colonies and to prevent them from being stolen, primarily.
Some Canadian and U.S. beekeepers have taken the concept a step further by overwintering their colonies in climate-controlled buildings, but these hives are removed from the buildings in early spring. Use of year-round “bee houses” or “house apiaries” is no longer common in the States.
There may have been some advantage to an enclosed structure from winter with cumulative heat and protection from the wind and direct cold, but this is probably minor. I have been in places in Europe and Eastern Europe where colonies were kept inside a trailer-like structure with 20-30 or so colonies inside. I found it a bit restricting in how you could manipulate a colony. Management there is that you take out full frames of honey and add empty ones back in because there is not room for supers that we are used to. It is a frame-by-frame honey collection, management, varroa treatment, feeding system. But for a small number of colonies in a remote area, it is a protective method. Bees that get out are provided a small window to exit from and get back to their specific colony.
I am sorry your winter survival rate is only about 40%. Winter, spring, summer, fall survival is all about safe, effective Varroa control, which influences the Varroa / Virus complex, and finally the quantity of easily available stored food resources for over wintering. It is not totally about the “container or multiple containers” the bees are in, but more about colony overall health.
Thank you for the Classroom comment Nick.
Jerry, I enjoy your column every month in the American Bee Journal. I was reading ABC&XYZ of Bee Culture and in it they say there are some 16,000 species of bees. Out of all these species, how many are experiencing CCD and are the feral hives having the same loss as the managed ones, or may CCD be something that we may have created?
Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) was a condition of managed honey bees that appeared in about 2006 in some colonies managed by commercial beekeepers. We didn’t know what it was in 2006 so we called it a “Disorder”. Now we know it is a combination of 1)Varroa destructor mites (introduced parasite) 2) Viruses vectored by Varroa 3) chemical pesticides honey bees are exposed to, some in the environment and primarily the ones used to control Varroa mites and 4) Poor nutrition.
Other pollinators seem to be affected by loss of habitat, and can certainly be exposed to pesticides in and around our homes, in production Ag. and weather events, but Varroa is unique to honey bees. CCD is a particular “disorder” specific to honey bees. If we could control Varroa and the Varroa/Virus complex safely and sanely without miticides (pesticides), CCD would probably go away in large measure, but beekeepers would continue to experience some winter losses, as they always have. Other pollinators have other things to worry about.
Q Marked Queen Found in Swarm
Yesterday a swarm came into a box I was storing in the backyard. No major event except when I found the queen, she was marked with red, last year’s color.
I am delighted about this. They are Italian bees and should not have the aggression problems most swarms we get in Ventura have.
The surprise is that I know of no other beekeepers anywhere near here. How far will a swarm move from the mother hive?
Bill in California
Pretty cool. Free Bees are nice and even better when the queen is already marked. Swarms generally don’t go any further than they have to based on the reports the scouts have brought back on colony “cavity space and volume” they need and what is available. Swarms fill up with food before the trip, but it is a finite resource, so not using it up in long distance flights helps with the set up and stability of the new swarm in a new cavity. In addition, the new swarm has to begin building comb immediately and brood production needs to start, etc.. My guess is that there is a new beekeeper within 1/2 mile of you who you don’t know about and s/he doesn’t want anybody else to know about. Enjoy.
Q NEW COLONY
We live in Vermont and this last winter the temps got down as low as -30. When the weather warmed up, we thought two of our hives had survived the winter. But when we were able to open the hives, we discovered that we had lost all our bees and the bees there were only robbing the honey. We did remove most of the honey frames, but left a couple of honey frames in each hive and did not close the entrance. We are receiving more bees to replace the ones we lost. Therefore, my question is: Should we close up the entrance so the robbing bees cannot get to the remaining honey or don’t worry about it and let the new bees we install resolve the problem themselves?
Thank you for your help!
Jan, you need to ....
The Classroom May 2014
by Jerry Hayes
Q WHAT WOULD JERRY DO?
My students and I thoroughly enjoy your very informational discussions and I frequently use your Q & A’s during our classroom brainstorming sessions with the Apprenticeship Certification Course for Centralia College.
We have heard through the years several versions about: 1) The differences, efficacies, and do’s and don’ts between sugar beet granulated sugars and cane granulated sugars when used as bee food in both liquid and candy board scenarios. 2)When making candy boards and cooking to 250 degrees F, when you add medications, essential oils or Honey B Healthy, does it cook the “goodies” out of those additives? I ask myself, “Self, WWJD?”(What Would Jerry Do?). I will present your answers during my next class session and in future sessions. Thanks for all your hard work on gettin’ the info to all of us and keep it coming buddy. Blue Skies.
Instructor and Master
WWJD....you have me in Excellent Company.....no pressure. Thanks Tim
I am super glad that you are teaching, training and sharing with new(er) beekeepers. Having access to real applicable information at this stage is critical for short-term and long-term success however the students view it. Good job.
1) Remember that honey is the best stored food for honey bees because the sugars present in nectar have to be simplified (inverted) in order to get the most energy value from them. Honey bees do this by introducing enzymes and changing the sugar profile. If the beekeeper did not manage to allow the bees to store enough honey, then of course supplementing with other sugars to provide the carbs is a logical decision...most of the time. Chemically sucrose is sucrose is sucrose, regardless of the plant source. But when fed to bees, the sucrose has not yet been inverted to make the simple sugars and this takes a lot of internal resources to utilize the sugar. Sometimes it is a net sum game as it takes as much processing to use them as it returns in energy. That is why using supplemental sugar syrups, although they can help tremendously, have potential drawbacks and collateral damage, too.
As a poor example, think of yourself and if you eat lots of Twinkies. It takes lots of B-Vitamins to process this which, in turn, creates a nutritional deficit in your body where those B-Vitamins would have been used to maintain optimum health.
2) Humans learned to create and control fire for warmth and cooking. When foods are cooked, it breaks down proteins and detoxifies toxins (proteins) which makes it easier for our digestive systems and makes these more bio-available and us healthier and more active.
Heat also drives off volatiles and what we cook smells differently than the uncooked stuff. As another poor example, make a hot beverage like a tea or hot chocolate or ....something. Give it a sniff. You can smell the volatile oils and alcohols that transport “odors” as the heat forces them to evaporate. Now think of a candy board and what may happen to the sugar if it is overheated...it darkens for a variety of reasons. Put something in it and if the boiling temperature of the additive is less than the 250F you mentioned, it will be driven off, changed molecularly and become something different than you thought it was at the beginning.
Feeding honey bees is sometimes necessary, no doubt about it. Candy boards are like a big Lollipop and if there is enough water condensation collected on it from the colony to dissolve the surface sugars or if the bees have enough saliva to lick it and remove sugar, it can work. Feeding essential oils to a colony in a liquid sugar solution has little effect on direct disease control or health. Do it in a candy board and the value decreases even more.
Lots of things are sold to beekeepers because beekeepers like to do stuff they think helps, so they buy all kinds of food additives because they think it is needed. That is my story and I am sticking with it.
All the best,
Q GO TO THE BANK
Jerry, when I build a queen bank, I use a strong two-story full body hive with a queen excluder in the middle. The queen is placed in the bottom hive and the queens in their cages are placed in the top hive. My question is: How long can you keep queens in a queen bank before they must be placed in their own hive?
In a perfect world, with lots of healthy bees and warm temps and lots of available ‘food’, you can keep them there for a month or so realizing that they become less dependable queens the longer they can’t do what they are biologically programmed to do. In this case less is more.
For longer term storage, when you might need a new queen or help a failing hive, setting up 4 or 5 frame nucs is a great method. Nucs allow the young queen to begin laying, so if you need an emergency queen (complete with brood and young bees), you have it readily available.
Q NUC ’em
Jerry, I have 4 colonies. I was planning on making some splits this spring to bring my beeyard up to 6. That way, if I lose a few over winter, I still have some colonies. However, I was recently reading about overwintering nucs. I’m wondering if it makes more sense to rear queens from my strongest colony and make nucs out of my weakest colony in mid-summer. Do you have any wisdom to share?
You are way ahead of me Jim. Nucs are a terrific option as they can be used to boost a queenless colony by simply plugging in the 4-5 frame nuc into it. Under lots of less-than-perfect conditions they can be overwintered, even in a winter such as we had this past year, but they need adequate stores and maybe insulation just as your larger colonies do.
I would strongly consider it. They are a great insurance policy.
Q VARROA IS THE KEY
Hi Jerry! My wife and I have a single top-bar beehive on the western side of Grand Junction, Colorado which we do not treat with anything. Last spring the hive experienced severe winter kill with lots of dead bees in the hive and a few live ones sort of roaming around. In May 2013 a fellow beekeeper and mentor trapped a swarm and dropped it in the hive. When we looked last fall, he didn’t think that they were strong enough to survive winter so we left all the honey. Now this spring 2/16/2014 we opened the hive and there are NO bees in it at all. No brood, no dead bees. The honey is still there (in the top 4 inches or so of the comb) as is some pollen, too. I placed some high density Styrofoam insulation boards in the peaked roof of the hive late last fall 11/2/2013 to help with the cold winters we’ve been having lately here. There were bees in the hive then. Did they leave because of the foam boards which may have some sort of odor that we don’t know about? Is this CCD (no bees, no bodies but the food is still there)? Could something else be going on?? Thanks - we enjoy your column in the American Bee Journal and appreciate any thoughts that you might have. Our mentor passed away this winter so we really can’t ask him...
Marget & Rich Schultz
Good Morning to you Marget and Rich. I am at a USDA Summit on Varroa in the D.C. area for the next few days. I hate to sound rude, but do you know what Varroa destructor is? It is a large parasite of honey bees that accidentally found its way from Asia to North America and other continents. Make a fist and put it someplace on your body. Proportionately, this is about how large the Varroa mite is on your honey bees’ bodies, sucking and feeding on their blood (hemolymph), introducing viruses and bacteria as it feeds, causing a collapse in the immune system. It would be like a parasitic rat on you.
There are a variety of partially effective control options that you can use to control Varroa. If you don’t control varroa, your honey bees will not be strong enough, vital enough, and healthy enough to make it through the most difficult season for them…winter. It is not colony collapse disorder (CCD), it is not Styrofoam--it is Varroa. What happens is that honey bees are altruistic, if you will, and on those days in fall and winter and early spring when it is warm enough to fly, the sick and parasitized will leave the colony committing suicide, hoping to protect their sisters from further infection (if I may be allowed to anthropomorphize). But if they are all sick and parasitized, they all leave at certain points and voila, no bees are left in the hive over time.
That is why I am at the USDA Varroa Summit because we are discussing how to control Varroa better to help honey bee health more.
Lots of resources are available to new beekeepers in Colorado. Are you a member of the local association or the state association, the CSBA? Good information and mentors are available to you. Hang in there, but realize beekeeping is a visual sport, so you need to be able to look, compare and sample so you can be a good manager.
Q DON’T BE CHEAP
Jerry, a quick question if you have a minute. I bought a few used hive bodies last year from a beekeeper I know well. He was always very careful and I don’t think he had any foulbrood, but he’s not around anymore to answer questions. There are a number of old, dried out brood combs with scattered dead brood, like you always see in dead-outs. Is there any way to tell whether such brood died from foulbrood or from mites? I’m scared stiff of foulbrood.
Thanks a lot,
Good Morning Henry. I am sitting in the Indianapolis airport hoping to get home today after the Indiana Beekeepers Association Bee School. There were 900 in attendance. Largest state meeting I have ever been to. Amazing!
Henry, if you are afraid of this old comb and diseases like AFB, or viruses, or nosema or varroacides all contaminating the sponge we call beeswax comb, then don’t be cheap. Beekeepers are inherently frugal (cheap) and would rather gamble losing a $300 colony and all frames and comb in the hive than spend a $1.00 or less per sheet on new foundation and beat the Las Vegas odds against them. Don’t gamble Henry. Foundation is cheap...don’t you be.
The Classroom April 2014
by Jerry Hayes
Q Honey Bee Nutrition... an Evolving Conversation
Jerry, I am studying honey bee nutrition. Frankly I am a bit of a skeptic at this point with what I have found about honey bee nutrition and how it may help honey bee health.
I can find a lot of references that show the negative impact of poor nutrition on bees. What I cannot find is information that characterizes the general nutritional state of bees currently in the US. For example, is there any evidence that the current landscape and beekeeping practices are reducing the quality of nutrition received by many colonies? As a continuation of that, is nutrition a significant factor in the increase of colony losses seen since 2006?
I sometimes think about a human example. Serving healthy meals at a hospital in a well-nourished, developed country will have little impact on the recovery of the patients. However, serving those same meals in a hospital in a malnourished, undeveloped country will likely have a huge impact on the patients’ recoveries.
So for me to be able to say that good nutrition will likely have a significant impact on the colony loss rates, I need to know if the bees are malnourished. I know this is a difficult question to answer experimentally and I’m making a generalization that the state of all colonies across the US is the same. What do we really know?
JM in Missouri
I think nutrition has been one of those elements that we as beekeepers intuitively know is important because it is important to us, our pets, the livestock and wildlife in our backyards, but we really don’t know how to control it for honey bees if needed. Honey bees forage in a 2-3 mile radius of their colony efficiently and access a variety of flowering plants that provide nutrition for the colony. But, sometimes this is not good enough and colonies don’t grow and expand as they should in a perfect world. We then experiment with supplemental food patties that we make or buy from the distributors, not knowing that they are nutritionally incomplete and many times the colony, even if starving, looks on it as trash since honey bees do not find and use ‘food’ in a patty on the top bars. It is not normal. They help (but not much) until real natural pollen is available. Sometimes I get tired of hearing myself talk, so I have asked Dr. Rosalind James to comment on your question(s). I think her answer is great.
ANSWER FROM DR. JAMES
A great deal of excellent research has been conducted to identify “the” cause for CCD and general honey bee health declines. We have had some of the best minds in the world working on it, but a single cause has not been found. That is because the cause is from multiple factors and complex interactions. The honey bee industry has been battling severe colony losses for years, and it is due to some new phenomenon, in addition to a great number of old insults (e.g. accidentally imported pests and diseases, pesticide kills, habitat loss). In addition, declines in native bumble bee populations have been well documented by more than one analysis. It is like the situation with the declining amphibians, first noticed by several independently for specific species and locations, before it was recognized as a more general phenomenon. What is the cause? In the case of amphibians, pathogen spread was found, but the picture is more complicated and cannot be ascribed all to one pathogen. And it begs the question, why did the pathogen spread to begin with? So it is with the bees, one reason cannot be found.
However, we know nutrition affects the health of organisms. And we know bees need a nearly constant supply of pollen and sugar. The nutritional details for bees have not been as deeply researched as they have for say, dairy cows (or humans). The value of the agricultural commodity has not provided the kind of funding that has been committed to dairy research. In addition, honey bees live in a colony, and the dynamics are much more complicated than for non-colony organisms. What you see happen to a single worker bee does not directly translate to the colony. The bees feed each other, they move from one caste to another, they have a queen who does all the egg-laying, and colony function is affected by the queen laying eggs fast enough and being healthy enough to assert sufficient chemical control over the workers. Then there are drones--the other side of the reproductive equation. All these dynamics are affected by the quality and rate of nutrients coming into the hive.
No completely satisfactory substitute for pollen has been developed. We get close, but it is never as good as actual pollen. On top of all of that, there are microbial and external enzymatic components to honey bee foodstuffs. Larvae are not fed pollen; they are fed bee bread (a fermented product of the colony). And the reproductive queen does not eat pollen; she eats food excreted by nurse bees. We know a lot about the complexities, but we cannot exactly answer your question. Not the way you or any of those of us who are ‘scientists’ want or would like.
But there is another dimension to your questions. The approach you are suggesting for analyzing the problems are kind of pin-point approaches. It is not an uncommon scientific approach--break things down into researchable elements. Do the bees need weeds in the field? Then, let’s offer them some flowering plants on the margins. Are certain fungicides toxic to bees? Let’s use other fungicides. Over and over throughout American history, we have had to learn that this approach to farming overlooks the complexity of the whole farm and the region around it. It typically does not provide sustainable systems. We do not/should not throw away chemicals, but we do need to reduce our focus on inputs. We are harming ourselves and the environment, and we too easily can get caught in a cycle that leads to an increasing dependence on input agriculture. Agriculture does not have to be a resource sink. As has been said many times in history about agriculture, we need to step back and take a look at the big picture and take a systems approach. Others might call it a holistic approach.
Below is a link to a paper describing to some extent what I mean. It has nothing to do with bees, but it demonstrates a systems approach that might work to reduce weed pressure. In addition, such an approach would lead to a more diverse landscape and reduced tillage. Adding landscape-complexity to a system can stabilize it. Stabilize the soil, reduce nutrient loss due to run off, and improved habitat for bees and other beneficial insects (like natural enemies of pests). Reducing tillage also stabilizes the soil and protects important soil microbial systems. Plus, it reduces labor and fuel costs. And, as far as wild bees are concerned, tillage is bad because most native bees are ground nesters.
George Washington developed a 7-year rotation system for his farm. The idea is not new. I realize problems are associated with it. For example, not all crops have the same value, and the value changes from one year to the next as demand changes, and planting and harvesting equipment are different for different crops (so the farmer might need more equipment of the expensive kind)—these issues have to be weighed in, though, with a big-picture look at things.
Is this all about nutrition? No, but bee nutrition is an important component. As I said earlier, anyone who has ever fed pollen to their honey bees in the spring knows that it improves the size of the colony. Pollen is generally considered a limited resource for bees. Give them more pollen, and their populations will increase. For honey bees, the colony is the honey bee, and bigger is healthier. It is a good measure for colony health, reproductive potential, winter survival, and pollination potential. http://naldc.nal.usda.gov/download/45095/PDF
Q Hopguard In the Cold
I read somewhere that the Europeans were getting good results from a Hopguard treatment for varroa mites in the winter. I was excited to hear that. It seemed to make sense. The bees have stopped or cut back on brood production, and so the varroa mites that are present would be out in the hive and on the bees where Hopguard would be more effective. But the problem is how do you get Hopguard into the hive in the winter? I live west of the Cascades, in the foothills, in Washington State, and day-time temperatures are often in the thirties or low 40s. It is my understanding that it is not a good idea to inspect a hive under about 55 to 60 degrees. Would it be okay to just take the brood boxes apart long enough to insert Hopguard strips?
For a variety of reasons Hopguard does work the best when varroa are exposed (phoretic) and riding around on adult honey bees and less so for the majority of varroa inside capped cells reproducing. I have thought exactly the same thing as you...how to get Hopguard gooey liquid into or on a cluster and spread around without using the strips that are a challenge at this time of the year. I am unaware of any data to show that if the liquid Hopguard material were available that it would work in this manner. Disruption or disturbance of the cluster by trying to insert Hopguard strips into it might not be the best answer.
I will ask one of the developers of Hopguard this question.
ANSWER FROM DR. GORDON WARDELL
I agree with you - I don’t think I would recommend drizzling liquid Hopguard on the cluster. Even using the strips in winter will potentially cause problems. You will likely kill a lot of bees, disrupt your cluster, lose heat and crash the colony. I sure wouldn’t do it that way in my colonies. Coating the bees in Hopguard will likely kill the bees that get coated.
The newly formulated Hopguard strips will be coming out soon - twice as much product in the strip and it will last longer in the colony.
All the best,
Q Feeding Invert Sugar Syrup
As long as it hasn’t been heated and darkened or opened and has started growing things in it, you will be fine and it will work well. Commercial beekeepers use invert syrup all the time if the price is right as it takes the bees less internal energy to utilize it.
Lucky find. Take Care.
Q HONEY BEE NUTRITION
When I compared the results of the study you published with Dr. Amanda Ellis in 2009 titled An Evaluation of Fresh versus Fermented Diets for Honey Bees, you had shown that there was no increase in brood area with the fermented diets. In contrast, in the attached graph published by Diana Sammataro she shows graphically that the bees fed a fermented diet had significantly more brood than the control. Perhaps I am missing a fine point in the research, but it still has me wondering. I sincerely want to understand this topic, but I feel like I am missing something. Can you explain this discrepancy for me? Thank you again for all your advice.
No discrepancy Morris. In our 2009 paper we just looked at acceptance of the various diets and which ones might not be considered as trash and not dragged out, but really consumed. We did not measure brood area or production – we simply measured if it would be tolerated — and that is why we had a ”debris” score which no one else has done. And, as you saw, much of the patty-style supplemental diets are dragged out as trash.
The Classroom March 2014
by Jerry Hayes
Q Swollen Friend
Hi Jerry, I enjoy your column every month. Have you ever heard of someone who is not normally allergic to honey to have a reaction to one crop? I gave a pint of raw wildflower honey to a friend. When he had some on an English muffin, his eyes and lips swelled up. Could it be the honey?
Thanks for any insight you might have.
There are proteins in flower nectar/honey and pollen that a few people can be or may develop an allergy to or are simply toxic to that individual. The pollen grains found in unfiltered, unprocessed honey would be a source of concentrated proteins that could be an allergen to someone sensitive to them. So, I guess he does not swell up when he eats a plain English muffin? I hope he is OK now and that it has not gotten worse. If better, he needs to visit an allergy doctor and be desensitized or stay away from that particular honey and pollen if you can identify the floral source. Does your friend have seasonal sinus allergies to wind-blown pollen in the air? If so, this could have been a precursor to the unfortunate event. Sorry for the awkward moment with your honey. It is one in a million, unless it is you.
Jerry, I’m confused by something I think I heard you say. You indicate to not medicate unless needed so when would you use Fumagilin? You said if they have a nosema outbreak it’s too late to give them Fumagilin.
Dick in Duluth
The problem is that there are two life stages, if you will, for Nosema--the vegetative stage that infects a cell to make more Nosema and the spore stage that is designed to survive as it is spread around and through and out the gut. Fumagilin doesn’t affect the vegetative or the spore stage at all. It prevents the vegetative stage from commandeering the cell machinery to make more Nosema. Its actual activity is on the honey bee’s individual cells to make them temporarily resistant to Nosema using them to make more Nosema. As you can imagine, Fumagilin is a stressor on the bees themselves as cell machinery is not working normally. Everything is a tradeoff.
So, based on the above when should you treat? How do you know if and when there is a problem? Is it sampling and finding a million spores per bee or some other number or do you simply treat and hope it is at the right time? Fumagilin can work if used at the right time. I simply don’t know how to tell you when the right time is. And, if you use it at the wrong time, it affects honey bee health itself and costs you a lot of money for no value.
Q New Beekeeper and Diseases
I’m a beginning beekeeper near the Mississippi Gulf Coast. I have been trying to get enough hives to help out in my retirement and I obviously love a challenge, with the hive beetles, varroa mites and other pests.
Actually, I had a few hives back in the days when it was much easier to keep them, 1980. Back then I didn’t have time to devote to them, so they just took care of themselves. I took some honey from them and left them what they needed for the winter. No treating for mites twice a year and I didn’t know what a Small Hive Beetle was.
This spring, I had one strong hive, so I made two splits and I bought two nucs for a total of five. Right now I have the one strong hive that I had last year and one that is so weak I don’t think it will make it. Though I haven’t given up yet, I did mention that I like a challenge. I sugar dusted twice during the last year and did not find but a few varroa mites, but when I put the mite strips in, I found out that I had a serious problem with them. I think the weak hive has one of the viruses that are associated with Varroa. I’m currently feeding Tylan to them and the strong hive because I believe they may have American foulbrood (AFB).
Getting to my question, is there any way to sterilize the hive boxes and frames? What I’m thinking is high heat might kill the spores on the wood without burning everything. The bees can be replaced; I’ve been doing that for the last few years anyway. I could burn everything, but I have a lot of work involved in them. What I’m looking for is a temperature that will kill the spores and not burn up the wood.
If you can help with this question, I sure would appreciate it.
Just as an aside my wife is from Pascagoula, MS and we met at USM. I know exactly where Perk is:)
It is a challenge with honey bees much more than it was in the 80’s for sure—a different world. A short answer to your AFB and sterilization of equipment is don’t worry about woodenware (hive bodies, covers and bottom boards). All of the diseases of honey bees are generally associated with developing brood (larvae and pupae) which means beeswax comb is the reservoir, the sink, the garbage collector for pathogens. It is tough to totally sterilize combs unless you have access to a gamma radiation sterilization facility near you and the price is right. So, if you think you have a full blown AFB event, replace all the combs with new clean comb or foundation. If it is just a few frames, then taking them out and burning the comb and washing off the wooden frame with hot soapy water will be about the best you can do.
The key to healthy colonies is varroa control using as few chemical-based products as possible. Apiguard or Api-Life Var would be my first choices. Hang in there!
Q How to Submit Samples to USDA?
If my leaky memory serves me right, in a previous column you gave out information as to how and where to send a sample of bees for disease testing. Could you please repeat that information?
Thanks so much,
Your wish is my command, Joe.
Submission of Samples for Diagnosis:
• Beekeepers, bee businesses, and regultory officials may submit saples.
• Samples are accepted from U.S. states and territories, and from Canada; samples are NOT accepted from other countries. For samples originating from Canada go to http://www.ars.usda.gov/SP2UserFiles/Place/12453300/CA%20Diagnostic%20Samples.pdf
• Include a short description of the problem along with your name, address, phone number or e-mail address.
• There is no charge for this service.
• For additional information, contact Bart Smith by phone at (301) 504-8821 or e-mail: email@example.com
How to Send Adult Honey Bees
• Send at least 100 bees and if possible, select bees that are dying or that died recently. Decayed bees are not satisfactory for examination.
• Bees should be placed in and soaked with 70% ethyl, methyl, or isopropyl alcohol as soon as possible after collection and packed in leak-proof containers.
• USPS, UPS, and FedEx do not accept shipments containing alcohol. Just prior to mailing samples, pour off all excess alcohol to meet shipping requirements.
How to send brood samples
• A comb sample should be at least 2 x 2 inches and contain as much of the dead or discolored brood as possible. NO HONEY SHOULD BE PRESENT IN THE SAMPLE.
• The comb can be sent in a paper bag or loosely wrapped in a paper towel, newspaper, etc. and sent in a heavy cardboard box. AVOID wrappings such as plastic, aluminum foil, waxed paper, tin, glass, etc. because they promote decomposition and the growth of mold.
• If a comb cannot be sent, the probe used to examine a diseased larva in the cell may contain enough material for tests. The probe can be wrapped in paper and sent to the laboratory in an envelope.
Send samples to:
Bee Disease Diagnosis
Bee Research Laboratory
Bldg. 306 Room 316
Beltsville Agricultural Research Center
East Beltsville, MD 20705
Q Food Fight
As a third-year beekeeper and avid reader of the ABJ, I find your monthly column insightful and educational. Thank you. I have a question:
Late last year, I removed the honey supers from my two producing hives, and while I had the hives open, immediately applied Apiguard treatments—thinking that if the queens were going to stop laying during the treatment (as they did last year), it would give them all fall to make up for lost time. Unfortunately, this action precluded me from replacing the supers once the honey was extracted. I elected to expose the extracted supers in my garage and leave the garage doors open to allow the bees access. Mistake. Within a day, I had hundreds of dead bees all over the garage floor. Assuming the bees were battling each other for the spoils, I stacked the supers in such a way that the bees could no longer access them and stopped the carnage. A month later, I re-applied the supers to the hives.
Two weeks ago, after waiting as long as I felt I could into the fall, I removed the supers filled with goldenrod honey and immediately applied top feeders. Same issue. Extracted supers sitting in the garage and no way to allow the bees to clean them up. Again, I exposed them to the bees and again, hundreds of dead bees were all over the floor and driveway. I watched for signs of battle but saw none. I’m going to remove the feeders tomorrow and apply the supers to the hives for cleaning. But, any idea what’s killing all my girls? Guess I’m a slow learner! Appreciate your thoughts on the matter.
Good morning Tom from a meeting on the West Coast. Thank you for the Classroom compliment. It is fun. My experience has been the same Tom. I never put the supers in my garage for free-form cleaning. I always did it away from my house so it wasn’t so crazy. Having free honey, regardless of quantity available, with all its inherent attractive odors, scents and original colony pheromones, engages the competitive nature of all the honey bees in a wide area. Honey Bees are incredibly efficient foragers gauging calorie expenditure to fly someplace to gather low sugar nectar with calorie intake to be sure they are bringing more back than they are using. Provide the final product, honey, with huge concentrated energy reserves, and especially at this time of the year, you have provided a perfect ESPN sporting event called “Robbing”. Only this one allows death. Add in the rough and tumble of collecting/stealing, as several colonies compete for this valuable resource, and deaths occur. If yellow jackets and other wasps participated, deaths go up as they fight for food as well. It is part of the process with this type of outside clean-up.
Comment from Tom
Thank you so much for your timely and insightful response. I know it’s an over- used phrase, but you truly are a gentleman and a scholar! Your explanation makes complete sense. I’ve read of “Robbing” but haven’t witnessed it. It never occurred to me that my girls would attempt to defend it against all comers, even themselves.
I won’t make that mistake again! Thanks again, best wishes and good luck in your new endeavor.
The Classroom February 2014
by Jerry Hayes
Q Formic Acid Revisited
Jerry, in your response to a question in the November 2013 Classroom about the use of liquid formic acid for varroa control, you said that it was a backwards step for beekeepers to soak pads in formic acid when there was a safe, approved, and labeled product: Mite Away Quick Strips. After using this product for the first time in September of 2012 and experiencing a 64% queen loss, we concluded that Quick Strips were a very efficient dequeening tool when used at full dosage. Currently, if our monitoring determines that we need to treat colonies for varroa mites, we return to the practice of using pads we soak in formic acid or use a 1/2 dose of Quick Strips.
Portland, Ontario, Canada
Hello Phil, I will assume you have contacted the Mite Away Quick Strip folks as they would like to hear about field results. Organic volatile acids have a very narrow window for application and must take into account temperature, humidity, colony size, volume of the hive they are in for successful use. Miss one of those and the whole system falls apart.
I would disagree with you that making your own in this instance is better. There is inconsistency in the active product ingredient, delivery substrate, and the real danger of negative health effects on you and your helpers.
The real problem with any organic acids is how they volatilize, which is not independent of temperature, humidity, and colony size.
Sorry for your bad experience with Mite Away Quick Strips. I hope they made your loss up for you when you told them.
Jerry - We did contact the manufacturer and their CEO made an onsite visit. We filed a Pesticide Incident Report with the Pest Management Regulatory Agency of Health Canada as did the manufacturer. The CEO admitted that in some cases the product can lead to what he called queen supersedure and felt that the resulting virgins would mate and go on to lead strong colonies. We did not view this incident as supersedure, but rather as a case of emergency queen cell production since we saw numerous small cells on the outside frames (all brood on the inside frames had been killed by the strips), and no queen was present. This happened in September after most drones had been evicted and when we rarely have high enough temperatures for queen mating. For that reason we destroyed all the cells and requeened the colonies with banked queens we had on hand and nucs we had set aside to winter and sell the following spring. There was no compensation from the manufacturer. Our experience with this product at full dosage has not been positive. Our ultimate goal is to breed bees resistant to varroa mites. As we strive for that, we will use management techniques to lower mite populations and formic acid when needed. If we find it necessary to apply formic acid, we plan to continue to prepare our own pads rather than rely on a delivery system that can be dangerous to queen survival.
Good Morning Phil. I am just back from the Mississippi Beekeepers’ meeting, so I can pay attention better now. A couple things: You did all the right things in reporting and calling people to task and bringing awareness forward. Good job. I am sorry to hear that the manufacturer declined compensation for an outcome that they said could be the result of using their product. Making your own formic acid product also bothers me as it is dangerous, and has inherent delivery problems as well. Please be careful and follow all instructions to the letter. Best of luck to you.
Q Feeding Wrong Corn Syrup
Jerry, our beekeepers’ club covers two counties. We have been discussing the use of corn syrup as a food instead of making syrup from white processed sugar. It had been mentioned that we use only corn syrup (fructose 42). One of our beekeepers used light corn syrup from the grocery store. It apparently caused the death of all three hives!
Could you please explain the difference and what would be considered the best to feed?
Thank you for your information as I am sure it will be useful to a lot of our beekeepers.
Received your letter David. Great question. High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is actually created by converting dextrose sugar that is present within regular corn syrup into fructose sugar. This process allows the HFCS to taste remarkably sweeter than Corn Syrup. This is why you’ve probably heard of HFCS being used in sodas and fast food. Unlike HFCS, Corn Syrup actually originates from a powder. It is made up of dextrose sugar, which is why it is not quite as sweet as high fructose corn syrup. Interestingly enough, corn syrup is added to some products like envelopes and stamps to deliver a slightly sweetened taste when you use them. That should give you a better idea of how sweet corn syrup is. Despite the fact that it’s not as sweet as high fructose corn syrup, though, corn syrup is still sugar.
From the Karo web site,
http://ingredientpal.com/karolightdarkcornsyrupingredientswhatitsmadeof, here is some other information on “Light Corn Syrup”:
Karo Light Corn Syrup Ingredients List: light corn syrup; salt; vanilla.
Karo Light VS Karo Dark Corn Syrup (What’s the Difference?)--“Karo Light and Dark are close to the same syrups. The difference between the two is the dark syrup includes a couple extra ingredients for color and flavor (One of which is the ingredient molasses)…..”
Then, on the Iowa Corn site, http://www. iowacorn.org, I found this interesting information about sugar content of several different sweeteners: “High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a sweetener made from corn and can be found in numerous foods and beverages on grocery store shelves in the United States.
High fructose corn syrup is composed of either 42 percent or 55 percent fructose, with the remaining sugars being primarily glucose and higher sugars. In terms of composition, high fructose corn syrup is nearly identical to table sugar (sucrose), which is composed of 50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose. Glucose is one of the simplest forms of sugar that serves as a building block for most carbohydrates. Fructose is a simple sugar commonly found in fruits and honey.
Whew, you made me learn more than I had intended:) HFCS and Corn Syrup can age and acquire a chemical called hydroxymethylfurfural or HMF which can be toxic to honey bees. Usually this can be seen as a dark discoloration of the normally light colored ‘syrup’.
I doubt that, all things being equal, if pure light corn syrup instead of pure HFCS were used to feed your friend’s colonies that death would have occurred acutely as was described to you. Won’t happen. Something else happened like the feeder used had some funky residue in it or the bees starved when they ran out or it got cold and they could not access the feeder or some other outside stressor was involved?
I hope this helps.
Q Bats in the Beeyard?
I am new to the world of beekeeping, getting my first hive this past spring. I live in east central Florida, and as you might guess, we have a large mosquito population here. When walking our dog around the neighborhood, we often notice bats flying shortly after sundown. I would like to raise a bat house in my yard to attract these flying mosquito eaters. When I have asked local beekeepers about this, I get mixed replies. Some say that bee and bat flight times are separate and there should be no problem. Others tell me that bee and bat flight times overlap and that bats flying then would feast on nectar and pollen laden bees, thus harming the colony. Can you please help me with
Thank you very much,
Certainly there might be a tad of overlap between daylight and dark and some uninformed bats may want to sample honey bees…once. Honey bees are big robust and don’t taste all that good because they have a venom sack and this poison just doesn’t sit well. Now add in the possibility that a bat will be stung in the mouth, on its tongue or on the way down and learning is rather quick for the bat that this insect isn’t quite as good as mosquitoes or moths.
I think you are OK. And this is a great way to get rid of mosquitoes.
Q Pollination Services and Honey Bee Health
Firstly, I want to thank you for taking the time to answer my emails and questions about my honey bees. From our previous correspondence, I asked about bees stinging outside the hive. As it turns out, they were not honey bees but Bembicini [sand wasps].
Secondly, I would like to ask you about honey bee health and the effect pollination
services have upon it. From my limited understanding, honey bee health has been in decline. One reason for this is the stress that bees endure from not having the ability to adapt to one environment to thrive in that environment. Instead, honey bees are torn form one place when it becomes a food desert for them, and placed in another with a whole new realm of parasites, disease, and other stressors. Pollination services rely heavily on medicine and chemicals to treat the bees for every disease and mite. The bees are forced to rely on these chemicals and treatments rather than to adapt to a new environment. These may spread to other areas causing new threats for already low numbers of wild hives. I am not saying that pollination services are evil wicked or that almond growers are evil for using pollination services. What I am asking, rather, is if we should take a second look at pollination services and see if they can be improved upon?
So much money from pollination services goes into the treatment for disease and mites that it becomes an extreme expense for pollination companies. I have thought some about this and was wondering what solutions are out there? Personally, and to an extent ignorantly, my solution would be to split hives as they move and leave the splits in the fields. Before this could happen, growers would have to plant other locally occurring plants between the rows like clover that restores the soil (benefiting the farmer and the bees) in order to provide food for the honey bee splits throughout the year. At this point, the farmer would pay the pollination services for the pollination the splits provide and the care of the bees if the pollinator service company did not do so for the farmer. This would promote plant growth allowing for reduced soil erosion, as well as drastically increasing honey bee populations.
When the bees make their first stop in almonds, the beekeepers would work to build up hives to top notch health before splitting the hives. When the almond season is over, the intercropped local plants take over as food sources for the bees, while the mother colonies move on to the citrus fruits and split there. This method may increase production by giving farmers less stressed bees which could be more efficient in their work. This was something I have spent some time thinking about and it most certainly needs to be researched. I am wondering what you think about this method and if it would be beneficial? Is this feasible?
Hello Luke, there have been a lot of conversations similar to what you suggest as to how to provide sufficient naturally and nutritionally complete forage for honey bees and other pollinators--all great ideas. The problem is that the commercial industry that provides colonies for pollination requires an economic scale to be worthwhile, which in turn means 10’s of thousands of colonies per operator. The largest beekeeper in the US has about 100,000 colonies and there are lots more with 8,000, 10,000, 20,000, etc. There is not enough concentrated forage, even in your model, to address this massing of colonies and allow them to forage on planted natural forage.
In addition, the almond grower wants strong colonies, not divides, to be placed in his groves for maximum pollination efficiency. To have such strong colonies in February, the beekeeper must spend a lot of time and money building up his colonies before the pollination season starts.
However, your suggestions regarding planting bee forage are all good and useful ideas that would bring benefit to water retention, erosion, soil fertility and pollination from the lesser known solitary and wild pollinators. However, commercial pollination using the keystone fundamental pollinator of pollinator dependent agriculture-- the Honey Bee--is simply a numbers game for the current model. Commercial beekeeping is just like production agriculture-- concentrated resources within a fixed time frame and dependence on inputs to drive yields.
What are some things that are being done in the pollination industry that are being done to improve bee health? AReal quick, take a look at these organizations’ web sites--lots of good work going on in a focused way:
The Classroom January 2014
by Jerry Hayes
Q Prepping The Bees
From Baja California Mexico, we are going to have 90 hectares of Brassica (broccoli and cauliflower) this year to be bee pollinated. Last year around 1500 beehives were hired from local beekeepers.
A Brassica specialist gave me your contact in order to ask you some recommendations or best practices for monitoring the bee hives’ quality before putting them into the crop and during the crop development to make sure there is good bee activity.
Here are some of my questions that I hope you can help me with:
A) Number of frames per hive recommended, number of bees per hive, larvae, young brood?
B) Usage of frames for honey or not?
C) Position in field?
D) Usage of attractant products?
E) Hives per hectare, placement and placement in the field?
F) Best practices for screen house or green house?
G) Usage of protein as supplement for bees?
H) General bee hive management.
If you can provide us any information you consider that might be useful to improve our bee pollination, please let us know. We would really appreciate your comments or suggestions.
Thanks and best regards,
Good Morning Armando,
I can give you some generalities and background and opinion if you don’t mind--background which I am sure you already know. Honey bees visit flowers selfishly for nectar (sugary fluid) for energy (carbohydrates) and pollen which provides protein, vitamins, minerals, fats, etc. In the process their hairy bodies pick up the sticky pollen (male element) from one flower and simply by accident deliver it to another flower part so sperm can be released and a seed fertilized that you can harvest. The plant has a plan developed over millions of years and bribes the honey bee with nectar to lure it in so pollen can be transferred and the plant species can reproduce.
Honey bees are looking for the most valuable nectar and pollen reward they can get. As an example, getting pears pollinated is really hard in early spring because the pear nectar only has about 7% sugar in it, while other wild native plants like dandelion have double or triple that amount. Honey bees will be attracted to the highest food reward and it may be not the one you want or had hoped and planned for. In addition, honey bees can forage for their foods in a 2-2.5 mile radius of their colony looking for the most reward. There might be a lot of flower competition in that large of an area.
Then, there are, of course, crop protection products used to keep bad bugs away, which may damage the good bug (the honey bee) directly, if not applied properly and/or some are repellent to pollinators like honey bees.
Until something better comes along, I would encourage you to take a look at what almond growers require for pollination of their crop. It would be a strong standard for you to follow as well. Take a look at the information in the link below.
For your specific questions:
A) See Almond requirements
B) If they are collecting honey, it might mean they are not visiting your crop, but something else in a 2-2.5 mile radius because surplus nectar to turn into honey is not generally a feature of broccoli and cauliflower pollination.
C) Since there may be more attractive flowers in the environment than broccoli or cauliflower, placing hives within the interior of the production fields means they have to fly over yours first, which in turn may mean more visits. If there are no alternative attractive crops in the environment, then it may not matter.
D) You can attract a honey bee to a flower with attractants, but it doesn’t mean they will actively collect pollen and pollinate. Any pollination that takes place from pheromone attractants used in the field will be by accident. Better than nothing I suppose, but I wouldn’t bet a lot on it.
E) Because of the less attractive nature of broccoli or cauliflower flowers, overwhelming the location with lots of colonies is better than not having enough. Many growers use 5-10 colonies per hectare. Another strategy is to bring in colonies from 3+ miles away that are new to this site every 10 days, moving the ones there out past the 3 mile range in rotation. What this does is to keep the bees on the crop longer because they have not imprinted on other nectar/pollen sources away from the target crop over time spent in one location. This is, of course, more expensive, but more efficacious for seed production
F) Tough to get honey bees to pollinate in a greenhouse as they are wide foraging insects that use the sun for navigation and in many instances beat themselves to death on the greenhouse roof and walls as they try to orient and get out. There may be other pollinators such as solitary bees, bumble bees or flies that may be better in a greenhouse than honey bees.
G) Depends on how long the bees will be in or on the crop. I would think that the beekeeper would be doing this so his/her colonies will be in good shape when they leave.
H) This should be a series of beekeeper initiatives that I would think they would want to do to keep their colonies healthy.
I hope this helps.
Q Suspicious Minds
I have learned so much from new friends and mentors at my local beekeepers’ club. My new found love of honey bees has really been helped by all my new beekeeper friends. At our monthly meeting last week there was a presentation and discussion of Monsanto and you and all the bad things that are going on. From what I have read about you and what you have printed from people who support you and your length of time as a beekeeper, I am confused because many members of the club are either suspicious or have written you off as not a champion of beekeepers. Who are you?
I will have been at Monsanto for 2 years as you read this. It has been a journey for sure to see if this big company can do something that no other company or government has been able to do for honey bee health. Yes, I think that I have created a reasonable paper trail of why I am here and what has been accomplished so far such as the Honey Bee Advisory Council, Honey Bee Health Summit, Honey Bee Health Coalition, PAm (Project Apis m) support for their great forage project and much more like articles in the American Bee Journal and Bee Culture. No apologies on my part.
I am not a psychologist, nor have I ever played one on TV, but let me share with you experiments conducted by a real psychologist named Solomon Asch on “conformity”. In the world of psychology “conformity” is the probability that an individual will follow some cultural/societal ‘rules or behaviors’.
What Asch did was recruit students and presented them with the two cards, like the ones below, with the lines on them. One card had simply a line on it. The other card had 3 lines on it of different lengths labeled A, B and C. An individual student was brought in, shown the cards and asked to study them. The question was then asked can you tell if the unlabeled line matches the length of any of the lines labeled A,B or C? If so, which labeled line is it, A, B or C?
According to the results, these student participants were able to correctly select the correct line length 98% of the time. Then, the experiment changed. Several more students were brought in to be with the original participant. But, these students were actually assistants of Dr. Asch. They were told to mix it up and when the cards were brought out to select the wrong line answer deliberately. When this happened, 75% of the participants went along with the rest of the group even though they knew they were wrong.
At the end of the experiment participants were asked why they went along with the group. Answers were that even though they knew the answer was wrong they wanted to fit in, not be ridiculed and that other people were smarter or had more experience.
So, my question is: Who are you? Are you an independent thinker who does reading and literature searches or do you only look at the first websites and blogs that pop up or what the folks are saying at the local beekeepers’ meeting? Because it does make a difference.
Q Honey Bee Health Summit
I just saw on the internet that Monsanto held some kind of a honey bee meeting last year. What was it?
This was the Honey Bee Health Summit hosted by PAM (Project Apis mellifera) and the Honey Bee Advisory Council (HBAC). Monsanto provided the facilities. About 70 of the leaders and shakers were from honey bee research from USDA and universities, with attendees from EPA, Almond Board, ABF, AHPA, etc., also attending and participating. It was a good, solid 2-day meeting focusing not only on the challenges of honey bee health, but how to bring all these disparate groups together to link arms and move forward positively as a united front. All of the presentations were videoed and are available at www.beeologics.com
Q Animal, Vegetable or Mineral?
I am 10 years old and sometimes my sisters and I play animal, vegetable (plants), mineral. One day it was my dad’s turn to think of something and he thought of honey. We tried really hard to work out what he had thought of, but we couldn’t work it out because he didn’t know whether it was an animal, vegetable, or mineral. I think it could be animal because honey is made by bees. I think it could be a vegetable because it is made of plants and contains pollen. I think it could be a mineral because it is not and never was alive.
So my question is: Is honey an animal, vegetable, or mineral?
Nectar is specially designed plant sap secreted from organs in a flower called nectaries that concentrate sugars to attract and encourage pollinators such as honey bees to visit and by design or accident take pollen from one flower to the other for seed fertilization. It is a reproductive bribe by the plant. These nectars also have various minerals in them, just as the sap in the plant does from the soil it is living from transporting water up and to the plant itself. Nectar in its pure form is, of course, a vegetable product as it is ‘manufactured’ in the plant. Honey bees can consume nectar directly, but they are what is called a temperate insect. Temperate insects come from places that have a long cold winter. For honey bees, that are one of only a few insects that maintain large social colonies year round, that means food has to be stored somehow to last through a flowerless and nectarless winter. Honey bees dehydrate and add enzymes to nectar to change the sugar content ratios for storage, and evaporate water from the nectar to a point where it will not allow fungi, bacteria, yeasts or other organisms to live and multiply. This allows the honey to be preserved for months at a time. Honey changes over time as the enzymes keep the honey from aging too rapidly. The honey stored by honey bees this summer, if not eaten, will be a bit different if it lasts until April.
I think honey originates from a plant (vegetable), is converted by an insect (animal) and has lots of minerals in it from the soil that the plant lived in. But it is none of those. It provides for a unique partnership between flowering nectar-producing plants and an incredibly important insect with which we can interact for our mutual benefit. Honey is super special, one of a kind, unique and a simply wonderful taste of summer.
Q Hive Beetles and Varroa
Here in north Georgia we have serious problems with hive beetles in combination with Varroa mites. We also have four distinct seasons. In the winter, when it’s cold and all the bees are in their cluster with the mature mites and hive beetles mixed together and no brood, it would seem to be a good time to treat the hive. Is there any treatment method that is suitable for use at this time? I enjoy and learn from your column every month and look forward to seeing an answer there.
Thank you for the Classroom compliment. Let me weave around a bit and see if I can combine personal opinion and fact and set the stage if you will.
I have been around pre-varroa and now of course post-varroa. The best thing we could come up 30 years ago was to introduce ‘pesticides’ designed to kill mites in an insect’s nest...the honey bee colony, in order to kill a bad bug (varroa) on an insect (honey bee). As I have mentioned in previous articles, trying to kill a little bug (varroa) on a big bug (honey bee) is imperfect at best. But, that is all we had/have. We have been impacting honey bee health for 30 years by applying pesticides in the hive to control Varroa. Goofy.
Two-thirds of all mites are generally behind capped brood cells reproducing. But, as you say, as fall approaches and winter begins, there is no brood or extremely small amounts in a four-season temperate climate. That means that for this tropical honey bee (Apis cerana) parasite that made its biological jump to Apis mellifera, a temperate climate European honey bee version, it has to figure out a way to survive until the queen begins laying and it can once again use these life stages to reproduce on. Varroa does this simply by riding around and feeding on and keeping warm with honey bees that are clustering.
They are exposed (phoretic) and since they are not protected behind a capped brood cell, perhaps impacting them at this stage would help. And it would or can be, but one has to be extremely careful that the cluster is not disturbed, broken up or the bees impacted by the chemical miticides used to try to control these phoretic varroa. That is why many times beekeepers apply varroa controls in late summer or early fall over several brood cycles as per label directions, while the colony is beginning biological and physiological changes that will allow them to “overwinter” successfully. Applying chemical pesticide/miticides during winter is a gamble. Being a pesticide will it make the bees a little sick or will it break up the cluster or impact pheromone communication or...many other things which may mean they do not make it to April?
Winter is the toughest season for honey bees. Getting them healthy and parasite and disease mostly free before winter approaches in full force is the goal. Varroa treatments in late summer or early fall and/or early spring before brood rearing gets into 100% full swing are the best times.
With Varroa you are trying to kill a little tropical bug on a big bug. With Small Hive Beetles (SHB) you are trying to kill, slow down a secondary tropical predator and a really big bug, in comparison to a honey bee, in a honey bee nest (home). The SHB is designed to be a smooth, tough, not easily damaged beetle. Honey bees can’t pick it up, sting it or grab it. All they can do is harass it and hopefully in the harassment process the SHB will want to get away and hide in a SHB “fall trap”, you have provided, where they walk in or fall in some vegetable oil and meet their demise. There are also some instructions on how to use a varroa mite strip and build a device that will expose the SHB to the pesticide. And there are the usual web site locations by self-described beekeeper experts that condone using various roach and ant poison bait traps with unapproved more dangerous pesticides in a bee hive. The problem with these devices, besides being illegal, is that SHB do not just stay in the ‘poison trap’. When the harassment pressure is off, they emerge and walk around looking for a meal and scoping out the place to see if they can start laying eggs. When they do this, they have the labeled and off-label pesticides on their feet, legs, bodies and track it around the colony, exposing the colony to additional chemical stressors. Beeswax is a chemical sponge and these chemicals do not go away. There have been many reports of queens being sterilized by one of the chemicals found in these off-label uses of ant and roach traps. SHB control in winter is difficult for the reasons above. Use a SHB “fall trap” and keep the colony strong and you will be in better shape.
I hope this all makes sense.
Hi Jerry, enjoyed your answer about pollen supplement in the Nov. ABJ. I hope it gets more research going on this subject. I’ve been using pollen substitute soft patties and like them, but you’ve got me thinking I should eliminate the foreign matter (soy flour, brewers yeast) and make a patty out of queen cage candy and bee pollen? Keep up the good work!
Thank you for the compliment Steve. Some roughage is good in the spring and summer as a honey bee digestive system is designed to process roughage that comes from pollen. Pollen is the vital ‘male’ part of plant reproduction. It contains sperm that transfers genetic information that allows a plant to use successful genes to survive and experiment with different gene mutation combinations. Without it life stops for most seed-producing plants. The plant sperm is in a robust container called the Exine, the pollen grain. The definition of Exine is “the decay-resistant outer coating of a pollen grain or spore.” Geologists and anthropologists get a lot of information about climate, environment and our ancestors by looking at the pollen grains found in excavations and in fossils because the pollen exine is so tough it can look the same as it did a million years ago and scientists can deduce what was blooming, what the climate was like and what our ancestors were eating.
The contents of a pollen grain will decay, rot and breakdown over time from UV, heat, moisture, bacteria, etc., but not the exine. So, this brings up two things, one is honey bees can’t or have a really hard time getting any nutritional benefit from intact pollen grains. The food value is locked up inside the pollen grain. Honey bees do not have chewing, crunching mouths parts that can break open the pollen grains and release the nutrition inside. That is why honey bees have learned to make ‘beebread’ using fermentation organisms to get the nutrition out and preserve the beebread for use later. Honey bees do not eat pollen; they eat beebread for complete nutrition. As you can imagine, there is a fair amount of natural roughage or foreign matter inherent in the natural process with an indestructible Exine. Unless you can quickly collect pollen, grind up the pollen and freeze it to -80F, the nutritional value is not available or disappears surprisingly rapidly. Soy, yeast, dried egg, goat milk, etc., have all been used as sources of vitamins, minerals, lipids, protein and other micro-nutrients to feed bees. The problem is that they are incomplete sources of nutrition for honey bees. It has some nutrition, but is not complete and self-sustaining for honey bee nutrition.
As you can see, Steve, it is not as easy as using or substituting one thing for another to get full value. Somebody will come up with a nutritionally complete honey bee diet one day; I just don’t know who or when.
Q To Drill or Not To Drill
I have a question regarding overwintering 2 hives, near Longmont, Colorado. One is a new hive this year with a small population of bees; the other is a mature large population hive. Before it turned cold, the larger hive was trying its best to rob from the smaller one. I installed an entrance reducer to cut down on the robbing. Other beekeepers in the area advised me to drill a 9/16 inch hole near the top of each hive for cleansing flights in deep snow, and added ventilation. I’m concerned this hole would be perfect for robbers to sneak into the smaller hive on warmer winter days. Would you drill, or just leave them the lower entrance?
Small and weak is not a good thing at this time of the year (November). Anything less than probably 5 pounds of bees, 50+ pounds of stored food and a few frames of stored bee bread plus varroa treatments in August, no other diseases and coupled with a ‘normal’ Colorado winter is most likely going to result in death of any colony not meeting these standards.
You can experiment and see if you can nurse these ‘welfare’ bees through the winter or combine them with the larger colony to add to their critical mass.
One of the hardest things in beekeeping is knowing when to take your losses, which always occur. I think of the words to an old Kenny Rogers song, “...You gotta know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to walk away, know when to run.”
And to your actual question, no sense in drilling holes in perfectly good equipment. Just prop the corner of the lid up with a pencil size stick to help remove moisture and provide an upper entrance.
Q Goldenrod Nectar
I’ve got a question for you concerning goldenrod and its nectar. Our local association in Pennsylvania had a guest speaker come out and discuss bee survival through the winter. It was great and very informative for our members. I had the opportunity to speak with him after our meeting and he mentioned something that never occurred to me. He said that the area we are from (Philadelphia, Penn.) won’t provide a goldenrod nectar because the goldenrod plants that produce the nectars for honey bees must live 1000 feet above sea level. I know there are many different types of goldenrod and only a few give nectar.
It wouldn’t surprise me, given the fact that our bees need to be fed in the fall to survive winter. And, we have goldenrod in our area that could help fill the boxes for winter. Have you ever heard of such a thing? Any thoughts on your part?
Bob from Pennsylvania
Sorry for the late reply Robert. I am traveling and in the Denver airport at present. I am certainly not a botanist or a goldenrod expert. There are various varieties of what we call goldenrod. Nectar secretion is tied to the variety, soil moisture, ph, temperature, etc. In my former state of Florida goldenrod contributed to honey storage for winter, even as mild as winter was in north Florida. The altitude was about 100 ft. above sea level.
Dr. Diana CoxFoster at Penn State may not know, but she probably would know a botanist who might have an answer to this question. You might also check with Dr. George Ayers, retired, Michigan State University. He is probably the foremost honey plants expert in the United States at this time and writes our monthly honey plants column every month.