The Classroom archive
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
The Classroom December 2013
by Jerry Hayes
Last year I had similar looking damage to some regular, drawn out, plastic frames. It was caused by bumble beetles. It was a moderately strong hive, so we took it totally apart, checking each frame.
About 3 years ago we got a big load of horse manure for the garden. A while later I noticed hundreds of larvae while digging and planting. The County Extension thought they were cutworms. I didn’t really think so because I wasn’t seeing any plant damage, so I gathered a bunch into a container and let them be for a while. They turned into bumble beetles. They are about 1/2-3/4” long, mottled brown and gray, slightly hairy, hard shelled, and emit a foul odor when squashed. When flying they sound like low and slow bumblebees. That year I had lots of them around the garden and especially on the sunflowers. I handpicked (killed) hundreds. The next year there were fewer, last year fewer still and I haven’t seen any in the garden this year. However, I just checked the hive affected last year and found 5 at or around the entrance. The hive is much stronger this year and the bees were really tussling with those. I am going to closely watch this hive the next few days before I tear it apart. I think its location under a very old cottonwood tree is part of the problem. Evidently, bumble beetles like rotting wood and compost. Extension workers said they were one of the “good bugs”. I guess it’s like weeds, they’re a pest if they’re in the wrong place.
I so look forward to your Classroom column. It has been very valuable as my friend and I try to figure out this hobby of raising bees. Thank you for the time you devote.
Good Morning Marion,
I looked up “bumble beetle”, Euphoria inda, and it was very interesting. Did you happen to keep a sample of the “bumble beetle” in your freezer or in alcohol? I would be interested in being sure it is a “bumble beetle”. You are most likely 99.999% right that these are the “bumble beetle”, but let’s get a taxonomist to give a 3rd party ID.
Yes, I have 4 bumblers right now, either just dead or almost in a plastic container. I will right now go put them into some alcohol and send them to you.
Good Morning Marion,
I received a reply from the Coleoptera (beetle) expert we have here:
“I’ve checked the literature, and the only reference I can find that is related is adults of the eastern species Euphoria sepulchralis being recorded inside bee hives in Florida, where they were presumably eating the honey. It would not be out of the question for the same behavior to be observed in a related species, and since the beekeeper insists they were collected from within the hive, I’m inclined to believe this is the case. As for control, again I think this is an unusual, opportunistic event that can be resolved by cleaning up the hive in question and not an ongoing situation that will require continued control efforts.” Dr. MacRae
Thanks for taking the effort to send them. I learn something all the time.
I’ve been keeping bees with my father ever since I can remember. I have been stung numerous times throughout my life without any problem, until last week. As I was getting the hives ready for the fall, I was stung by one of my bees and ended up going to the ER. I had a very bad reaction to the bee sting and now must carry an EPI pen with me. I was also told to stay away from bees. Is there anything that I can do in order to rebuild my immunity towards stings so that I can continue to tend to my bees?
As confusing and scary as this event was for you, unfortunately, it is not unusual. I do not know how old you are, but as we reach those midlife years, our bodies change in many ways. You are intellectually much sharper, as the wisdom of the ages is cataloged, but physiologically you “lose a step” as they say. One of these changes is in the robustness of our immune systems. It simply isn’t as robust as it was and it may react in ways that it did not in younger days to compensate.
For us beekeepers, when we get stung our body ‘learns’ to react to the foreign proteins in the honey bee venom in controlled ways that isolate and localize the venom reaction. When we get older, our immune system forgets, if you will, what it did before. It then reacts as if this were a brand new and dangerous situation and over reacts, flooding the body with mass quantities of natural chemicals that may lead to anaphylactic shock and a trip to the ER. Thank goodness we live in a First-world medical country. The EPI Pen contains chemicals to cancel the dumping of chemicals by your immune system into your body as it responds inappropriately to the honey bee venom until you can get back to the ER.
In our First-world medical community there are allergy specialists. They exist because there are other people whose bodies respond to milk, eggs, gluten, dust, insect stings, dogs, cats etc., just like you do to honey bee stings. This medical doctor, who specializes in treating allergies, can treat you for honey bee stings and “desensitize” your body. This will make your immune system less on alert, so that you can relax more around honey bees. This takes time and dollars for the desensitization, but doesn’t everything.
Once a beekeeper, always a beekeeper. Hang in there and go see the allergist.
Q How to Make Scary Big Colonies
Jerry, you mentioned at our Master Beekeepers’ Workshop that “Brood pheromone is a huge part of the start of young worker bees deciding to make new queen cells and one can delay this impulse by swapping brood up and away from the nest.”
Is there a correlation between brood pheromone and the making of queen cells by young workers? Can one really delay the queen cell-making impulse by moving brood comb away from the main part of the brood area?
I understand workers usually produce queen cells for 3 main reasons (really 4): (1) Prep to swarm known as swarm cells; (2) to supersede a failing queen (3) emergency replacement of a missing queen or (4) for “insurance” purposes only to be torn down later when unnecessary. One-3 usually results in the queen cup becoming a cell. In #4, rarely does the cup become a cell, unless 1, 2, or 3 occur.
Brood pheromone may signal the queen is failing, especially if the brood pattern is spotty. Secondly, the queen’s rate of laying would increase with a nectar flow, which results in vastly more brood that could thus trigger the swarm impulse. If brood in the main nest becomes congested (assuming this contributes to the swarm impulse), perhaps moving/swapping brood up and away from the nest relieves that congestion? Before a colony swarms, about a week before, workers begin biting at the queen’s legs and chasing her around the hive to keep her from laying. This slims the queen down over time, increasing her flight performance in preparation for the swarm flight.
M. in Alabama
One of the key signals for asexual reproduction by swarming is lack of space for the queen to lay in the brood nest, coupled with increasing day length. Keeping this reproductive imperative 100% in check is unobtainable for all of the “life finds a way” reasons we all know. But, and there is always a but, sometimes one can short-circuit it. Open brood produces odors/pheromones that inform the colony that all is well. Capped brood does not to any great degree. So, having a preponderance of capped brood and no place for the queen to lay means no open brood and “no everything is OK” pheromones. This is where the “ever expanding brood nest concept” comes in.
Picture a colony with three-deep brood chambers and the queen contained in the bottom one with a queen excluder. In spring, when the days are lengthening and the colony is in the growing mood, move frames of young brood from the bottom brood chamber to the second one every three days. Replace those frames in #1 with empty comb ready to lay in. Then, move older almost ready-to-cap or capped brood to the #3 hive body. So, young brood to #2 and older to #3. Empty comb to #1. Continue to do this for long as you can. With a decent queen, you can build scary big colonies.
In Africanized honey bee (AHB) areas beekeepers use this sometimes to keep AHB in the box and not swarming, absconding all the time. The problem is that these huge colonies can become dangerous.
You were already thinking about this concept. And you were right.
Q VARROA TREATMENTS
I hope I am not bothering you with too many questions, but I wonder what your opinion of Apivar with Amitraz might be. I have heard and read good things about it. Any input would be greatly appreciated. Thanks for your expertise.
No bother Bill. Just finished up a great Tennessee Beekeepers Association meeting and sitting in the airport hoping to get home tonight. Killing, damaging, hurting a little bug (varroa) that is sucking the blood of a big bug (honey bee) is tough to do without hurting the honey bee.....actually it is impossible. But, it is what it is until we find a safe, sane, effective way to do it. All that to say that all products used to control varroa are “pesticides”. By definition there is no such thing as a benign chemical that kills stuff. There are some products that are less toxic and some that are more toxic. Specifically, Apivar is the name of an acaricide that uses the pesticide amitraz as the active ingredient.
I am an old guy, so have old stories. In approximately 1993 I was involved in bringing an amitraz-based varroa product to market called Miticur. There were some formulation problems with it and it killed more bees than it killed mites. Beekeepers sued and the company removed the product from the market. Fast forward to 2013--Apivar from a different company than in 1993 seems to be a better formulated product and results are encouraging. Apivar is still a pesticide put deliberately in a honey bee colony. One advantage of it is that it breaks down quickly and leaves fewer toxic residues. With beeswax comb being a chemical sponge and holding lots of miticide and environmental toxin residues, having less of those is a good thing. All that to say, I would personally select Apivar over a fluvalinate- or coumaphos-based varroa control product, but behind Apiguard (thymol gel).
The Classroom November 2013
by Jerry Hayes
Q WORMS ARE OUR FRIENDS?...
I heard at our most recent local honey bee association meeting that “nematodes”, small worms, are the answer to Small Hive Beetle control. What do you think Jerry?
Elizabeth City, NC
Well this is what I think I know Joe. And let me preface this by saying this is from mostly my experiences in Florida, but there is commonality to all of this for other
1) Small hive beetles (SHB) have incredibly sensitive club-like antennae that are designed to pick up stress pheromones from honey bee colonies losing population from whatever pest, parasite, pesticide or environmental event is causing the loss. They can pick up in ppm honey bee stress pheromones from several miles away and fly to that location so they can check it out and see if the colony has lost enough population and provided them empty unprotected empty comb to start their reproduction process.
2) SHB select colonies preferentially that are in cooler shady higher soil moisture areas. This is because ground moisture is really important for allowing their young, the emerged larvae, to burrow into the ground and not dehydrate, then pupate and emerge as adult SHB successfully.
3) The USDA Lab in Gainesville, Fla., did some studies that indicated that in hotter, drier soil in Florida the SHB larvae would burrow down 6-7 meters to access cooler moisture conditions. Nematodes don’t go down that far.
4) Dry soil is not conducive to SHB reproduction and that is why many recommendations now say to put colonies in full sun, as it discourages SHB adults from selecting those colonies to reproduce in.
5) Nematodes are living organisms as well and require food and proper environmental conditions. In hot, dry soil they would die within hours. And if the soil was cool and moist, but there were not insect larvae or pupae to eat, they would die from starvation or wiggle away to another area looking for food.
6) Once SHB larvae have crawled out of the colony, it is for all intents and purposes over with for the colony itself. Whatever weakened them has not gotten any better; they now are being predated on by SHB and other pests. If the beekeeper thinks nematodes will solve his or her problem, it won’t because these beekeepers were not on top of Varroa or the Varroa/Virus complex and 90% of the time that is what predestined SHB to use this colony as a nursery.
Weak colonies in areas where SHB are living in the environment will attract SHB from potentially several miles away to use the colony resources to allow them to survive and spread these successful SHB
Will using nematodes work in some situations to kill SHB larvae that have already finished off a honey bee colony? They can if soil conditions and moisture immediately under the hive are right. Will this stop adult SHB from being attracted to stressed honey bee colonies from the surrounding area... no it won’t. The real questions are why is the colony weak and what will the beekeeper do about it? Treat or remove hive bodies or supers to force the bees more compactly into the remaining hive area to discourage adult female SHB from laying eggs until the reason for colony population loss is addressed and fixed.
Caveat Emptor. That is my story Joe and I am sticking with it.
Q GRUMPY BEES
Today when checking my hives, I found most all of the stored honey and pollen had been eaten. Hives were full of bees with both bottom deep boxes having 8+ frames full of brood of all stages and the supers were full of drone brood of all stages.
My questions are:
1. Why would the queens be producing so much brood this late in the season?
2. Also why were these bees so aggressive; they would attack me 100+ feet away when I tried to check my garden?
We never had this happen before. I live 60 miles west of St. Louis, Mo. Thank you for any help.
Sorry you are having grumpy bees. There might be a couple of things to think about. This is a typical hot (but not as hot as last year) August and very few things are blooming to keep the colony busy storing nectar and pollen for bee bread. There are more hot bees in the colony than there would be if there was a field of clover across from your house. For the queen this is perfect weather and unless the colony runs out of stored nectar and bee bread, she will lay 1000-2000 eggs per day. My concern is that you said the supers where full of drone brood. What do you mean by full? Is there worker brood also? Your colony may be queenless if only drones eggs are being laid and this could be the reason for your hot-tempered colony.
I think having lots of bees that don’t have anything to do and few resources coming in during hot summer weather could be the prime problem.
My secondary concern is that with lots of African Bee genetic introgression, grumpiness and elevated brood production is becoming more common. They are tropical bees and guess what; currently we are having tropical-like weather. I have to ask then where did your queens come from and do you think with the continued laying of the queen that there is a chance that these bees will swarm? Are there indications of swarm cells? African bee genetics means they don’t think about preparing for winter.
Q MYSTERIOUS GOO!
I always appreciate your help in these matters! Attached is a photo of a shiny dark brown substance in some of the cells in an uncapped super frame. The super was full of honey, and the bees appeared fine, and it occurred on multiple frames of the same super. It has the consistency of putty, unlike propolis. Any idea what it is? Thanks for your help
Donald A. Koppy
Honey bees generally only store food items in cells like nectar/honey and beebread from pollen. In a dearth period, however, they will collect lots of products that have high sugar content and store them as food/honey for later. Regarding this really dark, thick honey-like material in only a few cells, the bees obviously have found something that is different than pure flower nectar at this time of the year. In August, it could be from some manmade product that the bees discovered or maybe even honeydew from aphids on oaks or pines. Aphids feed on these tree saps and because the saps are so low in nutrition, they process a lot of sap. They suck it up from their mouth parts and most of it goes in a straight shot out their rear end as waste... but high sugar waste. Honey bees will collect this and store it as honey. The Germans have a large market for honeydew from honey bees collecting this material from aphids feeding on trees in the Black Forest.
Q SAFETY FIRST
We enjoy the Classroom. We are planting five acres of prairie this next spring that we hope our bees will enjoy. We are getting assistance from the USDA. The USDA recommends we cut and rake off the field this month. In a month to six weeks later, after the field starts growing again, spray with a herbicide mix of 1.6 quarts glyphosate, 4 ounces imazapic, 1 quart methylated seed oil, 5.7 pounds ammonium sulfate in 20 gallons of water per acre. Do we need to move our bees away when we spray? They are currently about 75 feet from the closest area to be sprayed. If we have to move them, how long do we need to keep them away and how far away should we move them? We have had them at our house in St. Louis and they could be moved back there if needed, but that wouldn’t be our easiest solution. Thanks for your help.
Glyphosate is rated as non toxic to honey bees as is imazapic. The methylated seed oil is as surfactant, so you get better coverage and control using the herbicides glyphosate and imazapic and if not directly applied to honey bees is non toxic. The ammonium sulfate and water are non toxic. My biggest concern would be the solvents used to keep the herbicides in a mixture. Sometimes these are more toxic to honey bees.
Obviously, read and follow all label directions. Just be sure that spray drift is not a factor when breezes or winds are blowing towards the colonies. And, if you could apply before dawn or as it is getting dusk, you have all the bases covered. The only things blooming right now that may be attractive to honey bees are goldenrod and asters and if spraying is at dusk, it would be a better time frame of reduced exposure to keep foragers away over the evening.
Great project. Document this process with before, during and after photos. Good job in enhancing the environment.
Q DESIGNER QUEENS?
I don’t know how busy you are today, but a few questions are popping up, and I thought you might have an interesting
I’m wondering what your opinion is about beekeepers who introduce specialty queens to their apiaries. How much is local stock affected by imported queens?
In inspecting, I sometimes wonder if some traits spread rapidly through the feral bees in an area. I see a lot of Varroa sensitive traits on random inspections. I see this in places where the beekeepers are new and never purposefully brought hygienic genetics into their yards.
I also ask this question because I wonder to what degree beekeepers are able to influence the characteristics in the genes of their local stock. I’m thinking about several beekeepers who feel that a little has gone a long way, and that a dozen queens, imported and bred from, can change the local stock noticeably.
On what scale do you think a person needs to introduce a specialty queen in order to see results in their local gene pool?
Great questions. Queens that are bred to produce progeny with certain characteristics to help with honey bee health, foraging, color or behavior, etc., have been produced for lots of years. In fact, with movable frame colonies and the advent of beekeeper-managed queen rearing, selection started in full force. These traits and their persistence have always been a problem to maintain and in the queen breeding industry it is called “variability”. Virgin queens fly a considerable distance to locate Drone Congregation Areas (DCA’s), so they don’t mate with the drones in their own colony, which would cause inbreeding. That for honey bees would be genetic suicide. Breeders and others try to flood these DCA’s with drones from drone mothers that they have selected. But with other beekeepers’ colonies, colonies that have escaped and are now feral and whatever else is out there, there is a huge genetic mixture of drones in a DCA. This is how honey bees survive by tremendous genetic diversity. It drives everybody else crazy because any trait that you have and want to keep evaporates relatively quickly when a queen open-mates with 40 drones. Unless every beekeeper in a 15-mile radius of each other buys all artificially inseminated queens (less genetic diversity) that are the same and maintain those, then the chances of real and significant long-term honey bee colony genetic changes are gone in a year or two. This is the “variability” that queen breeders face.
Also, remember that not only can varroa sensitive hygiene (VSH) traits be bred for, but we are looking 30 years post Varroa and there has been 30 years of natural selection that has fostered these traits to appear naturally as Darwin has been in action.
All honey bees are mongrels in the US. There are no true Italians, Caucasians, Russians or...whatever. And, as with dogs, some mongrels are okay and some aren’t.
Q HyGiene and Preserving combs of Honey
I look forward to your question and answer section in the American Bee Journal. Three questions:
1. Have you changed your mind or are hesitant on feeding honey back to the hive. I would think that if we heated the honey to above 140 degrees F., we would kill bacteria and virus and below 180 not to darken or caramelize it. Yes, we would also deplete the enzymes and lower the quality of the honey, but I would think it would still be better than syrup or sugar water.
2. If we suspect or just for hygiene sake, can we have a bucket of chlorinated water to dip our frames in or even our supers and then dip again in fresh water and let air dry. I have read about people irradiating them or something like that to kill the germs, but this is not possible for most of us to do.
3. I put a walk-in freezer on the farm for a few reasons. I can freeze and kill wax moth/ hive beetles; I don’t have to extract if other projects on the farm need to be done first; also it lets me keep frames of honey to extract for the Boy Scouts, etc. through the winter in a clean environment. I leave the on/off switch on a timer every other day and let it cool down to zero degrees. Other than a high electric bill, any pros or cons on the freezing for an extended time.
Let me see if I can help you with your questions:
1) Honey may be full of bacteria, yeast and fungi, but because of its low moisture content, most of them cannot grow or reproduce. Some remain viable in a spore form, however, until or if conditions change. American foulbrood (AFB) disease has a spore stage that is decades lasting. AFB just waits for the proper moment to get transferred to a honey bee larvae gut. Heat (unless it’s at the boiling point or higher for a period of time) doesn’t do anything to the spore stage. For other organisms that are present, 180 degrees F. may damage them, but anything less than 212 degrees F is a partial effort in futility. Plus, if honey is heated, sugar is changed to carbon and HMF (Hydroxymethylfurfural) is produced. These are additional “roughage” and are tough on bees that cannot get out to defecate in the winter. HMF is slightly toxic as well.
Pure sucrose (granulated sugar) for bee feed is much better than real honey that has been heated beyond repair.
2) Chlorine solutions do not do much disinfecting or sanitizing as the frames and supers are usually coated by the bees with wax/propolis which makes the chlorine /water solution bead up and not get in surface contact with anything long enough to do much good.
3) Freezing is a great non chemical way to control many honey bee secondary predators like wax moths and small hive beetles (SHB). Wax moth eggs laugh at cold, so 0 degrees F for a couple weeks is better than every other day. SHB eggs and adults are more sensitive to cold.
Q BEE SUPPLEMENTS
Jerry, what about all these bee supplements? A member of our bee club talked about a supplement she mixed up that had eight ingredients starting with one commercially available pollen supplement. Do you recommend supplements?
Great question Dick. Go into any Walgreens, CVS or Wal Mart Supercenter and there is a supplement aisle for shoppers that has vitamins, minerals, herbs and all sorts of combinations. Those are provided to “us” because the medical community knows a lot about human nutrition and what our bodies need. There is tons of research on poor food selection and the resulting problems with human health because of poor diets such as obesity, diabetes, scurvy, goiters, osteoporosis and on and on. These supplements are provided for those who know enough about nutrition and health to look at their diet and make a selection to feel better. Some of this is the ‘placebo effect’, because most of the vitamins and minerals are water soluble and wind up in the toilet, if not used by your body. Again, this is all based on lots of research by smart scientists who have undertaken a study of human nutritional needs and the food’s nutritional profile on every label of stuff we buy in the grocery store.
Back to honey bees. Like us, honey bees need a diverse diet to get all of their nutrients. A diverse diet to a honey bee means collecting pollen from many different kinds of flowers that will be converted to ‘beebread’ that provides the majority of the protein, fats, vitamins and minerals for proper health. Flower pollen is nutritionally different from different species of flowering plants. There is not one kind of flower pollen that is nutritionally complete. You and I eat a variety of foods because none are nutritionally complete for us either. So, honey bees need to visit a large community of different kinds of flowers. The honey bees add some nectar to pollen as they collect it and add some enzymes, along with the yeast and fungi already on the pollen. When they take it back to the hive, it is packed into cells and a fermentation process no different than yogurt or cheese takes place. If you are a farm boy Dick, think of silage....same process. This fermentation breaks down the pollen-releasing nutrients, creating vitamins along with lactic acid, which preserves this nutritional food bounty.
Nectar provides the vast majority of the carbohydrates (sugars) needed for energy. It is changed into a long-lasting food called honey by enzymes added to the nectar by the bees.
There are a few problems with supplements provided for honey bees:
1) There are no nutritionally complete substitutes or supplementary diets for honey bees.
2) Honey bees do not normally (when foraging in nature) eat the ingredients in any of the pollen patties sold. Honey bees are not designed to eat soy flour or brewer’s yeast or dried egg yolks or... .any of the other stuff used.
3) Honey bees do not access food in their colony in the form of a patty stuck on the top bars of their nest. Stuff like that is considered trash to be removed, as it is junking up the space and rotting. When one sees bees all lined up around a pollen sub patty looking like they are loving it, it is because the manufacturer has loaded it with sugar or pheromones as an attractant. The bees want the carbs and will haul out the rest as trash.
4) Supplements are not a fermented product and as such have the wrong pH (acidity or alkalinity) to be attractive to honey bees and signifying ‘food’.
5) And then there are all of the other liquid herb concoctions to add to sugar syrup or homemade food supplements. Have you ever seen a nutritional label on them? So, if a honey bee were forced to consume this stuff in sugar syrup, what does it do to add a nutritional component to the honey bee’s diet to help make the bee healthier? Or does it hurt them?
6) Anything that is not digestible and/or not needed for nutrients is excreted as waste.
All of this stuff doesn’t kill honey bees in front of your face, but do they really do anything good? Nobody really knows because there is little peer-reviewed research data. It is mostly anecdotal. In my opinion, this stuff is mostly made for the beekeeper to feel s/he is helping somehow.
All of that to say, I really don’t know, nor do I believe anyone else does for sure. However, to be fair, there are plenty of commercial beekeepers out there who would strongly disagree with my assessment since they spend thousands of dollars every year on commercial or homemade pollen supplements to build up their colonies in time for California almond pollination in February and March.
Q RISKY BUSINESS
Hey Jerry, I always read The Classroom first thing when I receive my copy of the American Bee Journal. Being a new beekeeper, it has been very informative to me. I have a friend who has a hive of honey bees in a tree in his yard. He doesn’t want the tree taken down. Can you tell me the best way to get them into a hive?
Thank you for The Classroom comment Scott. Being a new beekeeper, I know you are intrigued by this process. I checked this event off of my bucket list years ago because I made enough memories from the first experience:)
The easiest thing to do is to wait until next spring to see if they are dead. If they aren’t, it means they are pretty hardy and might be worthwhile to access the genetics. However, unless you cut this tree up and get the queen and brood out, you will have to rely on the drones produced to contribute to any swarm or supersedure queens that other colonies will intentionally or with your help artificially produce. So, this path is not clear cut either.
And, you can certainly harvest some of the foragers in a new hive, but it is a bit late to be able to do this and build up a colony in many parts of the country to make it through a ‘real’ winter.
So, without harvesting the whole colony, the best you can do is harvest as many foragers as you can. To do this, you will need a top, bottom, hive body or super with frames and foundation and access to a frame of comb with brood to put into the hive body or super as an attractant to the incoming foragers (See drawing). If you had a queen to add to this mix, it would be better.
So, what you want to do is build a stand or some kind of platform to place the small “hive” directly in front of the entrance of the one on the tree. Place a homemade cone made of screen wire over the tree’s bee entrance (wide end fastened to the entrance). This lets the foragers come out, but they have a difficult time getting back in, so they will probably wander into your platform hive. The foragers will enter your ‘hive” as they try to get to theirs and either be tricked or give up if they perceive your hive as home because of comb, brood and maybe the queen you placed in it. That will leave the queen and the rest of the colony in the tree, but over time you should be able to collect all of the emerging brood from the tree hive as they leave to go out and forage and come back to your hive entrance. At some point, you can move this colony a couple miles away to your house and all is well. But, the colony may either be dead or dying in the tree since you siphoned off all of the population.
I still vote for waiting until spring to see if the tree colony is dead first. Better yet, leave them alone and let them live to pollinate the flora around them. Your non-beekeeping friend may not realize that there is no way to completely remove a feral colony from a tree without cutting the tree apart.
Q FORMIC ACID SAFETY
Jerry: Just a note to let you know I enjoy your Classroom articles and I have a question I hope you can answer. At our last bee club meeting we were talking about how to use formic acid [to control varroa mites] when a new member said that his family in Canada had been using formic acid for about the last three years by dipping a piece of cloth in formic acid and hanging about three of them on the outside of one of the outside frames of a hive. He said he didn’t know of any queen deaths and that they were happy with how well it worked. I asked him where he got his information on how to use the formic acid and he said it was from an article in the American Bee Journal about three years ago. I was wondering, Jerry, if you can remember any such article and if it was about the use of an older formula of formic acid?
Good Morning Keith. Years ago the Canadians approved the use of “bulk” formic acid for varroa control. It required a mask respirator, gloves, proper ventilation and additional safety requirements. Liquid bulk Formic acid is a powerful “ACID” which will burn your lungs and take the skin off your fingers and damage your eyes.
With labeled and approved Mite Away Quick Strips that contain an approved dose of formic acid and method to apply it, why in the world would you want to go backwards and do this? Even if I remembered, I wouldn’t tell you how to do something dangerous to you, damaging to the bees and not approved in the United States..
Please use only labeled acaricides, follow label directions and you will get dependable results that will keep you and your colonies more healthy.
Q BEEKEEPING IN PENNSYLVANIA
Testing for varroa (1 cup of bees put in a jar of alcohol) done in August was showing 2 or 3 mites. The healthy and strong colonies are just eating up all of their honey by the end of September, and then .....die. I don’t think robbing is the problem since the colonies are too big and strong when they run out of honey. Varroa counts are too low for it to be a varroa problem.
I see no other disease factors, no crippled wings, etc. They are in a heavily suburbanized area where every homeowner can be expected to be treating heavily for termites, which means insecticides on/in the yards, foundations and gardens. But the colonies do not seem to be dwindling until the honey and pollen are gone, which makes me think that there are not enough flowers in the area, or something is making them decide that they have enough and can stop gathering. Yet, I drive around and see flowers in August and September, asters and primroses, goldenrod, etc.
Even if I speculate that someone else is stealing the honey and letting my bees starve, then why are the bees not restocking on the asters and goldenrods available in September? I think that the location is not very good and I need to find a new one.
Honey bees collect food resources in the form of pollen to make beebread for their protein, vitamin, mineral and lipid (fat) needs and nectar to convert to honey for their carbohydrate (energy) needs to feed individual workers, drones, queens and the biggest volume use of raising more brood (larvae). The largest limiting factor of how much of these food resources they collect and store is availability of flower nectar/pollen needed to feed developing brood, which is a motivating factor for foraging and comb building and then preparation for winter, which really starts in spring. Add in disease, parasite and pathogen problems that affect the overall health of the colonies and desire to forage in a 2-mile radius of the colony and things can fall apart quickly.
The suburbs can be challenging for honey bees, but it is not because of lack of flower resources. You mention that the colony seems to dwindle when they run out of food. What happens if you run out of food? As the beekeeper (manager), did your colonies already have 40-50 pounds of honey stored in August/ Sept? Only you would know. Or, was it more like 20 pounds? Did they have enough room to store the surplus honey from asters and goldenrod?
Many northern beekeepers use two hive bodies, not because the colony or the queen needs this laying, brood raising space, but because the second hive body is the place for honey storage for the colony itself and the supers are for the beekeeper. Some strains of honey bees build very large colonies and raise brood well into the fall. There may not be natural sources to replace this drain on colony stores. Or, the beekeeper is not monitoring and has chosen not to feed sugar syrup to bring that hive weight (50 lbs. min in Sept/Oct depending on location) up with stored carbs.
And, if the fall or winter is warmer and longer, then they probably will eat everything up and starve to death. In the wild this would be Darwin in action, as the less adapted would perish in this situation and nature would select for genetics that would be more attuned to winter survival.
So, in my mind, if varroa is under control and there are no unresolved pest, parasite and disease issues, there are plenty of flowers and the colonies are populous, it is not chemicals used in suburban gardens or lawns that are causing your colonies to starve to death. It is lack of honey storage due to lack of space to store it, you not monitoring for food reserves, or unsuitable honey bee genetics for your area which are allowing the colony to continue raising brood well beyond the time it should be.
The Classroom October 2013
by Jerry Hayes
Q WHAT EXACTLY IS HONEY?
I live in Brandon, Iowa, (East Central), and have two colonies. I’d love to have more. By the fall of 2012 my bees had barely produced enough to keep them going through winter. Then, as I anticipated from events the previous fall, they each filled up a deep super after the flowering season was over.
Strange, a person would think, until taking into account the following. The hives sit at the end of a prolific three-acre garden that consists of at least 40% assorted melon vines. Each fall at the end of the season, in preparation for spring, the gardener mows off the leftovers. This creates a smorgasbord for the bees, and they feast well on the broken melons.
So, my question is, “Is this honey?” It’s from the plants, made from the plant sugars, processed and stored by the bees. It just happens that the taste is like someone’s breakfast toast soaked in melon ball juice. If it’s not honey, what is the proper term?
This actually happens quite a bit. No, it isn’t honey as it is not flower-produced nectar collected by honey bee and converted into honey. Bees are pretty lazy or really efficient, depending on how you look at it, as they will access lots of high sugar liquids and store it as food for them at a later time. But, for human consumption, it isn’t honey. It might be more accurately characterized as naturally flavored syrup.
One story: There recently was a beekeeper who had produced ‘red’ honey. Come to find out there was a cough drop factory about 2 miles away with a leaky pipe. The bees collected the liquid and stored it. The sugar in it was from sugar beets, so why isn’t it honey. Other than the Red FD&C #7 and it not coming from flower-produced nectar, it probably is an interesting product, although it cannot be called honey either.
Q “TRUST ...BUT VERIFY”
Need a little info or a point in the right direction. I’m in SC and honey sales are at a point that I need to purchase honey in drums from outside vendors. That being said, and being a good ole southern country boy, I trust what vendors tell me about the source of their honey. However, I still believe one should follow up on what people say they are doing.
What I would ask of you would be to point me to a lab that I could submit a sample of honey and they could analyze and give me a honey source. Granted, maybe it would be wildflower or such, but I would need their input.
Any help in that direction would be greatly appreciated.
My best regards,
“Trust but verify” is a good course of action as suggested by the Russian proverb, so often quoted by U.S. politicians. Complete and accurate pollen/honey identification can cost as much as $1200.00 per sample. Are the “outside vendors” willing to support their product by providing this service? Or, if you know them well, do you have confidence in them and their product?
Dr. Vaughn Bryant from Texas A&M is the leading, and maybe only ‘melissopalynologist’ in the country. That big word means he can look for pollen and more importantly identify the pollen by plant species in honey. Most honey plants also produce pollen and all pollen looks a bit different, so visual recognition is the key. Kind of like bird watching. There are lots of birds that look similar, but are different. Same with pollen. In fact, there are about 250,000 plants in the US used by honey bees.
A couple of years ago Dr. Bryant was brought 60 samples of honey. Of those, 75% did not have any pollen in them to ID because the samples had been filtered out by producers/packers. So, using Dr. Bryant’s technique, one couldn’t tell if the samples were real honey or not or from what floral sources the nectar was gathered.
A trick used by some unscrupulous foreign honey processors is to ultrafilter the honey first to remove all pollen, and then reseed the honey with pollen from the advertised floral variety.
All that said, this is a hard thing to do accurately. I would contact Dr. Bryant directly to get his take on your honey ID needs.
Q ALWAYS TWO SIDES....
What a disappointment to see that Jerry Hayes has been swallowed by the scourge of the Western Hemisphere: Monsanto. Any advice he gives from here on out will be suspect! I knew something was fishy a few articles back when he displayed a very defensive attitude toward a writer’s concerns about GMOs, but I suppose I missed any other references to his job with Monsanto until the August 2013 issue. I now see his role at ABJ to be paid informant for this multi billion dollar science lab! Jerry, I won’t be drinking your Kool Aid!!!
While I would like to think there are good intentions at play with “the first ever” Honey Bee Health Summit sponsored by Monsanto, I really see this as nothing more than a salve to help this greedy corporation improve its image and to quiet the complaints about what they are doing with our food.
If Monsanto seriously gave a hoot about honey bees, the environment, or human health for that matter, they would have already voluntarily taken a much more cautious approach. And the ridiculous lawsuits of innocent farmers whose crops are being taken over by their GMO pollen makes my stomach turn. And Jerry in bed with them. What a shame!!!
I was forwarded your email to the American Bee Journal. Joe Graham, editor of the American Bee Journal, did an interview with me when I first started here that appeared in the July 2012 ABJ. I read it again and it still pertains to what I hope we can accomplish. Give it a read if you have time.
I have been a beekeeper for lots of years and have devoted my life to this industry and the beekeepers that I love. I have seen the beekeeping industry crawl on its collective hands and knees for years begging USDA, Universities and companies for honey bee health controls. They have been thrown bones. We are still talking about Varroa control 30 years past introduction and the best things we can do are throw pesticides into a honey bee colony to kill a little bug (varroa) on a big bug (honey bee). It is crazy.
So, if I can influence a big successful seed company to use nonchemical, non GM technology to control Varroa and the Varroa/Virus complex, I will. And, if I can’t I will leave. But, we will do this right and it won’t be for lack of trying.
If you have any questions please let me know. I will get you an answer.
Hi, Jerry, I am very humbled by your email, and I am sorry that I didn’t do more research before sending my overly emotional email. I have a tendency to react without thinking about the whole story. I love beekeeping, beekeepers, and all of nature. I had that “ah ha” moment about 10 years ago, and I have realized how we humans have really gotten ourselves into a pickle!! Sometimes it freaks me out to the point that I become a little militant in my passion.
I hope you aren’t offended and can understand that my LOVE of your column and my initial disappointment made me into the devil. That you took the time to personally email me makes me still LOVE your article. I am sorry.
I am glad that your knowledge will be put to good use from the other side of the fence. Please don’t allow all that CASH$$$ they’ll want to throw at you to sway your love for bees. THANK YOU, JERRY! I am so glad you wrote and allowed me to have another “ah ha” moment!!!
Kanawha Valley Beekeepers’ Association
Q BUT COCONUT SMELLS SO NICE!
Hope all has been well for you. Here in Southern California, we didn’t get much rain, and my dependence on native vegetation (Sage, Buckwheat, Encelia, etc...) is kind of out of luck for this year. So, I’ve actually started to feed until Raspberry begins to bloom, hopefully in about 2 to 3 weeks. So, with the lack of good forage, colony health is going to diminish quite a bit, so the stressors are beginning to show up in terms of malnutrition, and those darn mites. The bees stopped rearing drone brood so I was only able to remove 1 cycle of drone brood out of the 5-7 cycles (They started to rear drones in January few in late December). I don’t think that one removal would have done a hit on Varroa, so I want to try Coconut oil until I normally treat for mites in August/September. What’s your take on Coconut Oil? I hear mixed reviews. One line of thought is that it works well and promotes mite drop, but doesn’t kill them. I have also heard that it doesn’t work at all—it’s just a gimmick. Do you have any thoughts regarding the use of Coconut Oil?
Before I share my opinion with you, perhaps you would like to consider a small field trial that may tell you about Coconut Oil and Varroa control. I would take 3 to 6 colonies and make two groups. Do a sugar or alcohol shake with each colony and get a phoretic (exposed) mite level based on a 300 bee sample. Write it down with a date and a time. Then, treat one group with coconut oil and one group with Apiguard, following label directions and complete treatment regimen to the letter. I have no idea what the communal wisdom is for a Coconut Oil treatment, but pick one and follow it. Three weeks later, after a complete brood cycle, sample each colony again and see what the varroa phoretic number is, then and write it down. See what this small research trial and sampling looks like and what the varroa levels may be.
An opinion is like a nose, everybody has one. If you want to have shiny oily bees whose complexion is really nice, use Coconut oil. If you want to control Varroa, use Apiguard. Let me know how it goes.
Q BROOD ROOM
Hi Jerry, once again I find myself in need of advice. I am having very poor luck finding good queens. I have been through 22 so far this year, with 10 more in the mail. Of the 22 three-fourths are doing okay. As the queen fails, brood space is getting filled with pollen. Now everything is pollen bound. My question is: Will they move/discard this pollen to make room or is that my job? Thanks for all your help.
I have heard more complaints about queen and package suppliers than I have in years. Promises and quality seem to be really low. The only reason the colony will remove/use the beebread is if there is a reason to use it for feeding developing larvae, primarily. Other than that, it most likely will stay where it is unless you scrape it out. I would hope that you get some fully mated healthy good queens that can lay 1500 eggs per day and then the beebread will be put to the use it was intended. Hang in there. If it were easy, everybody would be doing it.
Q Tipsy Bees?
I hope all is well with you. I remember someone wrote to you asking if it would be OK to feed fermented honey to their bees if it was their own honey. I can’t remember what issue that was in. I glanced through classroom issues all the way back to 2008 without any luck. I guess I missed it along the way. There is not much information on the subject out there.
My question is. “Can fermented honey be fed back to the bees straight or even diluted with water if it is honey from your own hives?” What are your thoughts? As always I appreciate you.
Hey Dennis, whether it is beer, whiskey, wine or any number of other “fermented” products at the ABC store, they all contain the toxin/poison called alcohol. People drink it and as a neurological poison it affects the nerves in the brain and elsewhere and compromises their judgment and actions.
Feed fermented honey to a colony of bees and if they will take it, it will do the same thing to their brains and actions. Probably not a great idea. Drunk bees don’t do much of anything…kind of like people.
The Classroom September 2013
by Jerry HayesQ Jerry Has A Question?
A beekeeper friend at work asked me what was going on with the comb in the attached photo. The comb came from a top-bar hive and was in between two other “normal” frames with intact comb. It wasn’t a mouse, SHB or wax moths. It looks like almost super hygienic bees, but I have never seen the comb removed entirely through to leave a big hole to this extent.
With thousands of years of collective experience with Classroom readers, what do you think is going on?
Q Mineral Oil ... Revisited
There is Russian saying, “The one who is looking will always find.” :) I heard Monsanto hired you to guide their efforts with honey bee health. I am so happy for you, Jerry. I believe this is huge chance for the beekeeping industry and for the bees that you are working with Monsanto--much more power to make a difference. And from your blog, it looks like things are more positive in terms of cooperation than might have been expected. Great!
Question: I recently found out about a different method used by some beekeepers for varroa mite control--fogging beehives with mineral oil. The claim is that it doesn’t hurt the bees or the beehive products and kills the mites very efficiently. Sounds so good and tempting. What is your take on it?
Thank you for your knowledge and your pointed and entertaining sense of humor :) I greatly enjoy both. Thank you for being out there,
This whole mineral oil thing appeared on the Web world several years ago and had quick adoption and lots of interest and then faded away, for the most part. When things fade away, you can guess why. If it worked so well, why isn’t everybody doing it? The problem with the web and social media is that everyone is an expert and this stuff has an infinite life span once in the digital world, so you get confused if this is real stuff or just a blip on the beekeeping radar screen.
Let me try a poor analogy. Just for argument purposes, let’s say you have roaches in your house. And let’s say that one of the controls for killing roaches is to have a Pest Control Operator come into your house and fog mineral oil everywhere in the house. It is nontoxic to you so it is okay. Some of it may get on the roaches and cause them some distress and it may be repellent to them, so you don’t see as many. They are still there, just not as many. But what has happened to your house? The inside is coated with a film of mineral oil. You can scrub it off, but the regimen for treating roaches with mineral oil fogging is on a regular schedule, so you have to scrub the walls and the floors and ceiling after every treatment. Then how about you? You are covered in a film of mineral oil and your clothes and your glasses and hair, everything is covered. This would be okay maybe if it got rid of all the roaches, but it doesn’t and it has to be fogged regularly.
You discover that there is safe environmentally friendly roach bait that kills the roaches and they go away after a short time. Are you going to fog your house anymore with mineral oil to control roaches?
All the mineral oil does is coat the bees with an oily film, they get slippery and they can’t get it all off themselves; the whole inside of their nest has a continually thicker film of mineral oil that they can’t clean off, beeswax comb is coated in the stuff, their food supply gets mineral oil on it and in it and it really doesn’t control varroa. You could use something like Apiguard that is a thyme-based product and do much better at varroa control and not make a mess in the honey bee’s house.
Try it if you like, as it won’t kill the bees right away, but it is a stressor because they do not have soap, water and sponges to clean themselves or the surface of the most important part of a honey bee nest....the beeswax comb.
I hope this helps.
Q Bee Feed
Hello Jerry, my name is Kaleb and I have 10 hives and am trying to help them build up. I have a chance to buy corn syrup to feed them, but do not know if they can have that and if it is nutritious?
In my opinion, nectar is best, honey is next, sucrose, granulated sugar, like in the grocery store, that you mix in water to make syrup would be next followed by HFCS (High Fructose Corn Syrup), which is last. HFCS can be hard on bees, especially if it is old or off-spec and has a degradate in it called HMF.
Q Nosema Queens
Hello Jerry. I noticed your recent responses about nosema damage to queens. I understand your concern with injury to queens, but in the last issue you also state that bees became resistant to tracheae mites over the years. These are different issues, but don’t you think having some pressure on the queens during development could help improve resistance to nosema? Susceptible queens would not last and stronger ones could survive, maybe passing this trait on to daughters. Furthermore, constant use of antibiotics in queen rearing would be an excellent way to distribute antibiotic resistant nosema across the country in a very short time. Probably this is already going on.
We are not a huge operation, usually under 100 colonies in a harsh climate. I started using queen cell protectors this year and was then able to tell what cells didn’t hatch. About 6 out of 100 didn’t hatch and I found varroa in 2 of those. I have not used treatments since starting up our operation 6 years ago and it has not been easy, but I feel like I’m gaining ground. I do add a frame of brood back to my cell builders that is in the process of being capped on day ¾ (while queen cells are being capped) to attract mites away from the queens as suggested by Kirk Webster. So, likewise do you think that some pressure by mites/nosema at this stage in colony development (queen rearing) could be important to further colony resistance?
Survival of the fittest is always an option if the organism has the genes or the epigenetic traits to allow some to survive and pass those traits on. You and I are here most likely because some of our ancestors had established expressed genetic traits that allowed them to survive colds, flu, poor nutrition, the black plague, infections and all sorts of other things. And then, reproduce so we could be here emailing each other. Pretty cool.
For smaller beekeepers, who are somewhat isolated, not migratory and not exposed to lots of other beekeepers’ colonies as they go to fee-based pollination events, what you are doing is great. It is controllable, visual and doable. I would encourage you to keep doing it.
For larger beekeeping businesses with thousands of colonies it becomes a bit more difficult. I distinctly remember tracheal mites in the US and how many commercial beekeepers, queen and package producers lost 80% to 90% of their colonies and simply could not recover quickly enough and went out of business. They did not have the luxury of experimental developmental time. Same thing happened with Varroa. Understanding of the parasites and having control measures lag in a real world situation and many again went out of business because they did not have the buffer/cushion that allowed them to miss pollination contracts and honey production sales. Once the revenue stream dried up for commercial beekeepers and banks would not lend them operating capital, they had no choice but to leave the business. Commercial beekeeping on a large scale is no different than production agriculture. It is a bit precarious and there are lots of production inputs to take away as much uncertainty as possible. But, if there is a disease, damaging pest, drought, hail storm, too much rain or whatever, how many years can one absorb this before the tax man comes or the mortgage is due or truck payment is late?
Selecting traits and setting up drone colonies and selecting queen breeding stock in an isolated location is a positive way to start. Honey bees are survivors. They have survived because of genetic diversity which comes from mating with 20 to 40 different drones. Tinkering with inbreeding or lessening the genetic diversity with honey bees and keeping helpful traits, while eliminating less desirable traits, is the challenge. Queen breeders are confronted with this all the time and are only partially successful. Give it a try and don’t get discouraged.
Earlier this spring and now again I have lost what appeared to be a better-than-average colony. There was a noticeable drop in activity, when I checked, most (all?) of the adult bees were gone. In the first hive the queen held on for several weeks as I added frames of brood and bees from adjoining hives in a futile attempt to boost the nurse bee population. The queen continued to lay eggs everywhere, but the larvae never developed past 4 or 5 days. I finally caught the queen, caged her and introduced her into a totally new nuc. These bees all died! The most recent colony disappeared almost before I knew it was happening, but the queen left several frames of young brood. I question Colony Colapse Disorder (CCD) because I am not in an agricultural area. Is there something else this can be? In any case, is the equipment salvageable or should it be destroyed.
As always, I appreciate any guidance you can offer.
Well, none of that sounds good. I wish we hadn’t named this colony loss situation Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) because it is a catch-all for honey bee health issues and situations. And honey bee health is just as challenged in suburbia as it is in production agriculture areas. The problem is that if you have 10,000 colonies and you lose 50%, this is a lot more media noteworthy than if you have four colonies and lose two. This is still a problem, except the scope and quantity is different.
Let me ask the standard questions:
- In early spring what was the food reserve level. Did they starve to death?
- Did they swarm?
- Did they abscond? This is different than swarming when the whole colony leaves.
- Queens are the last survivors in a typically defined CCD colony. Were the queens the last standing?
- When did you last treat for Varroa?
- What did you use for Varroa treatment?
- Did you follow label directions and treat according to them?
- Any other disease noticed in the colony?
- Any small hive beetle damage or wax moth damage on the dead colony?
- Any lawn, garden, golf course treatments within a 23 mile radius that might have impacted the colonies?
Jerry, thanks for the quick response.
The early spring hive was a carryover from last year. I thought last fall it was looking a little puny and fed heavily. It still had several full frames of reserves of honey or pollen during failure.
I don’t think they swarmed as I never saw queen cells or crowding in either hive. The queen was the last bee standing and still laying even with no nurse bees to feed the larvae.
I moved only the queen to a new nuc with brood frames from other hives. She did not survive.
I treated for mites last fall w/MAQS. The second colony was a cut-out from early this spring, so it received no treatment. It had grown to the point of adding a second brood box before decline. A few hive beetles, but nothing else noticeable.
I did notice in the second hive, not the first, a small patch of rotten brood--quarter size in two places on one frame. No roping though. It appeared to clear on its own.
I live in an area of mostly 100-year-old forest, homes or pasture except for my vineyard, which I did spray last year regularly with fungicide. It’s about two hundred feet from my hives.
Thanks in advance
Whatever CCD actually is, I think this description meets the formal definition. If CCD were 1 thing or 2 things, my next advice would be easier and more accurate. So, now what? If the combs are more than 4 to 5 years old, it is time to recycle them and start over. You could get rid of all combs, even if newer than 5 years and start with new foundation, of course. Or, I would say that sanitizing the combs by washing with warm soapy water to get the junk out, rinsing thoroughly and then exposing them for several days to sun light UV as a disinfecting procedure and then integrating them into other colonies as needed is another option. The hive bodies, supers, bottom boards, covers, etc., should be fine; just be sure to scrap all the old burr comb from them.
Regular spraying of fungicides near your hive could also have caused these losses, but at this point it is too late to tell. I suggest avoiding spraying near your hive(s) in the future. Even though fungicides are not generally recognized as particularly toxic to honey bees, they have been implicated in some previous honey bee losses or weakened hives.
As in all things with honey bees and especially situations you have encountered, cross your fingers. Hang in there.
Thanks Jerry. I can only think how bad this would feel if it were hundreds instead of just two.
Unfortunately, I have seen a grown man cry after losing 5,000 colonies. Sad.
Q Apiguard Use
I just tried to do some research on the use of Apiguard. They all say NOT to use it while supers are on. Are they wrong? Is there another treatment useable while supers are on?
Yes, Mite Away Quick Strips can be used with honey supers on, according to the manufacturer’s advertising and labeling.
I went to the Apiguard manufacturer’s site and this is what I found in their Q&A section:
“Q: Should I use Apiguard when supers are on the hive?
A: It is preferable to remove supers before treating with Apiguard. Apiguard may taint honey in supers, but it is unlikely, especially if the honey stores are sealed. Apiguard may taint the brood wax, and low traces may reach the wax of the supers. If you do use Apiguard when supers are in place, make sure that the Apiguard is positioned immediately above the brood nest and that the bees have enough room to get into tray and to walk through the gel.”
Excellent. Thanks a lot for taking the time to respond. Beekeepers are like that.
Q I Have a Few Questions ...
I bought 3 packages of bees from the same company on April 13. Two of the packages are doing just okay. But one of the packages is doing incredible. All boxes were literally identical on each hive. Same drawn out foundation in all. The Super Hive (I nicknamed it) has already filled 2 deeps, 1 shallow and has brood up in the 3rd deep. The 3rd deep is also full of capped/uncapped honey. So, I added a 4th deep and ventilator yesterday. The other 2 packaged hives are doing okay, but they are just barely moving through the shallow, and nothing is up in the top deep. I did check the brood pattern and it looks good in all the hives. However, the Super Hive has done so much more. Do you have any suggestion as to why?
Nectar collection to turn into honey is based on a few requirements: 1) Need--Does the colony “need” this food enough to go out and get it? Honey bees are either inherently lazy or super efficient. It is much easier to use the sugar syrup the beekeeper has put on the colony than to go out for 2 miles and collect nectar and come back to the colony. 2) Are there enough older foragers available to do the hard work of collecting nectar from potentially miles away? 3) Is there room to store it?
Change any one of these and the ability to collect and store nectar for honey goes away or gets better. So, if there is not a lot of brood to feed, there are few foragers to go get nectar and there are few flowering nectar-producing plants within foraging range. Even if they got it, there would be no place to store it (empty comb), so little honey will be stored. Change this to more need to gather nectar, lots of foragers to go get it, having lots of flowering plants in proximity to get it from and a place to store it. Voila, more honey stored!
As you can tell by the picture I sent, I have added top ventilators. We are going to have a string of 100 degree weather days here in Boise, Idaho. My question is this. I have read conflicting stories on ventilation. My reason for using ventilators right now is to help in keeping the bees inside working instead of bearding, and to help get the moisture out of the honey so they can cap it over quicker. The pictures show my ventilators sitting on top of standard inner covers. Would it be okay to not use the inner cover, which would expose the frames, but would give them a lot more ventilation?
Ventilators don’t hurt, but with your humidity in Boise at, and I am just guessing here, 20% in summer, moisture is evaporated pretty quickly from nectar. Think of a honey bee colony as a thermostat. It expands as it gets hotter and contracts as it gets cooler. Bearding when the humidity is 20% and the outside temp is 100F in Boise is more for the bees themselves rather than purely water evaporation for nectar.
My other observation might be a dumb one, but here goes – does it make sense to try and mimic a tree trunk? In other words, tall, narrow, entrance towards bottom, no top entrance, no ventilation. They seem to do fine in the wilderness.
This is an age-old question of how to duplicate what honey bees seek in the wild and how we as human beekeeper managers require certain configurations to make the system work for us. Is there something that is good, better and best? Sure, but honey bees are so adaptable that they can live in lots of places and adapt pretty well. It reminds me of another organism that can live just about anywhere—humans.
I have a weak swarm. It has about 3 or 4 frames of brood in the bottom box, and the queen is doing the best she can. My question is this: Can I take some brood frames (capped and open mixed) from my “super hive” and brush the bees off, and put them in the swarm hive? Will they accept them, and the nurse bees work them?
Yes you can. The question is: Will it help or will you have just facilitated a “welfare” colony that needs your input all the time to simply survive?
Q Aggressive Bees?
One of my four hives was extremely aggressive today during a routine inspection. I had no trouble with the other three, which I inspected first. The forth hive had problems right when I opened it, with a huge collection of bees between the inner and outer cover. I had put a single super on that hive several weeks ago and the main reason I was doing the inspection was to make sure there was no brood in the super. To my dismay, the super was filled with brood, so I walked off to grab a queen excluder. I pulled off the super, placed the queen excluder on the top brood chamber, and then replaced the super. I then started to pull frames on the super because I wanted to see if the queen was up there so I could move her down below. During all of this the bees became more and more aggressive. Smoke seemed to have no effect. They just started attacking me in large numbers, forcing me to close the hive in a hurry and run, as several bees were stinging me through my suit. About twenty minutes later, I returned to the hive in order to close it up correctly since I had left a frame out when I closed it before. I was barely able to complete that task and again ran to the house. Hundreds of bees followed me all the way back, clinging to my suit and attempting to sting.
I am not sure what to do now, as I am probably marked and I am not sure when I will be able to return to my garden even for normal activities; right now I could not even go up there with a bee suit on. I have never experienced anything like this before.
Could these bees be Africanized? Is there any way to test them? Thanks for any help you can give me.
There are all sorts of possibilities, of course. What is aggressive/defensive to one may not be even close to some levels of AHB. But, you have had a bad experience and reached out. First, for political reasons I would take a sample in any kind of alcohol and ship it off to my old Lab in Gainesville, FL for morphometrics, C/O David Westervelt. It may be faster than the USDA Bee Lab in Tucson. Any overly defensive colonies, regardless, should be requeened, moved or eliminated.
To save equipment, if the beekeeper, maybe at night, could place the colony in a large black trash bag and seal it up. Next day it can be “solarized” to kill it.
Other Questions: 1) Purchased queen from.....? 2) Collected Swarm? 3) Queenless? Let me know how I can help.
Q Africanized Bees Control Varroa?
In the June 2013 Classroom you accurately answered Chuck’s question on Africanized bees and their apparent ability to deal with Varroa. I would like to add to this by pointing out that Africanized bees have a shorter gestation period of 19 days for workers. This shorter period of time also poses a reproductive problem for Varroa mites.
On a very different note, can you tell me how drones produce sperm? I realize that they are haploid already, but how do they generate sperm cells?
Yes, you are right, Morris, but with so many mixed populations in the US, this benefit is less apparent than it might be in Africa or South/Central America, etc.
Drones are normally naturally haploid, so when their testes produce sperm, they of course are haploid. They produce sperm just like many other organisms in organs called testes.
Thank you for the quick reply. Because African bees don’t seem to mix genetically with other bees, it is a misnomer to call them “Africanized”. The drones out compete other non-Africans in drone congregation areas and even their sperm are better at competing with non-Africans.
So with that said, the Africans would remain mostly pure and have a shorter gestation period, making them less susceptible to the ravages of Varroa mites.
The grumpy gene is certainly dominant and, yes, because of different times of the day for mating, if left alone, they will mate selectively with each other. But, in many locations, the drone congregation areas contain a mixture of drones from managed and feral Africanized colonies--such as in my former state of Florida. With its huge hobby group (3,000) and large commercial beekeeper (300,000 colonies total) activity, this contribution is not static. And, as such, dilution is the result and as we used to say, “Dilution is the solution.” All that to say, they do not remain pure if areas are flooded with managed colonies representing European genetics.
Okay, good point. Drone flooding is done in commercial areas where an attempt is made to control breeding, so it would work in this situation as well.
It would be interesting to compare the DNA of bees in areas where the Africanized bees have been established for years with the DNA of bees that are in a newly occupied Africanized area. I would expect some dilution at first, but it would be interesting to see if that dilution remains. Are you aware of such studies? Perhaps in Florida?
Before I left the Florida Apiary Inspection office, we had a data base of all DNA samples collected and the results over 8-9 years. You could see a change and it went back a forth, depending on when thousands of migratory beekeepers were in the area. David Westervelt, who took over for me as State Apiary Inspector in Florida, would have that data.
Q Buying Honey Bee Packages
I have been trying to keep honey bees for 5 years. They were nice, active healthy hives during the summer. I have no luck keeping them through the winter here in Wisconsin. Every spring, I have been ordering two 3-pound packages. I’ve tried to contact local keepers for advice. I have no idea how to contact our local clubs.
This year I ordered two 3-pound packages on March 3rd, for arrival on April 29th. April 30th arrived, no bees. I tried contacting the supplier, no luck! I tried another supplier. I was told Russian packages were all sold out. I tried another supplier. I found one, who was still shipping Italian packages. I ordered one package, with an arrival at the end of May. The date for arrival came and went. No bees! I contacted the supplier; it took two days for a reply.
Apparently, my bees went to Arkansas. According to computer arrival confirmation, my address was good, except my last name was misspelled with a “T” instead of a “P”. Now it is June and no bees! What can I do? What should I do? How often does this happen with a supplier? (They were paid for.) Thanks for any advice! No bees for me this summer! I still have not received any reply from the supplier!
Larry in Wisconsin
Larry, it is hard for me to give advice on the specific delivery issue, but I would handle it how you normally would when someone you do business with fails to meet his or her end of the bargain.
It would normally be too late for package bees, but if you have equipment and drawn comb and you can feed, feed, feed, you might make it. The ultimate question is: Why can’t you keep colonies alive over winter. Is it Varroa or Varroa/Virus complex, American foulbrood or European foulbrood, less than 60 pounds of stored honey or... ?
If you will do a search on Google or any other search engine for the Wisconsin Beekeepers Association, that link will come up and then all of the local regional associations can be accessed from there. You need a mentor. Let me know how it goes.
The Classroom August 2013
by Jerry HayesQ SNAKE OIL FOR HONEY BEES?
Leafing through the various equipment catalogs, I see an ever-increasing amount of “vitamin” and/or “health” supplements to feed your bees. Is there any hard science behind these? Somehow I feel that companies, large and small (especially small), are turning out stuff like good old-fashioned snake oil without any knowledge of need by the bees and are they good or actually harmful? I know what the next mixture will contain—caffeine—after the publication of the recent paper on its effects on bees.
I think this subject is kind of like dog food and cat food. We have dogs at home and we have purchased some of the high-end expensive canned dog food at times and it really looks good, with chunks of chicken, beef, carrots, beans and some nice gravy. But when you read the label, the nutrition is the same as the cheap stuff that is ground up leftovers from the processing plant. Plus my dogs are country dogs and nosing in the trash or eating something they find already dead is OK with them at times. I think the name brand stuff is made for the pet owners and not the ultimate consumer, the pet. And if you look at the BILLIONS spent each year on these it makes sense. Caveat emptor for dog food and honey bee food, as not enough science is behind it. It is all marketing at the end of the day. But, maybe if this is a transitory hobby it is OK—not real value but psychologically acceptable.
As an afterthought, we can feed nutritionally complete diets to every animal in the zoo, but there is no complete substitute diet for honey bees. What a gap!
Q LAYING WORKERS
First, I enjoyed meeting you at the Virginia state meeting. You made me feel as if I knew a little, maybe. I have some questions about laying workers. A couple of years ago I had a hive with that problem and tried to handle it with queen cells and dumping the hive a distance away and waiting. Nothing I did worked and the hive died out. If I have a laying working, would putting a live queen in work or would she be killed? Could you combine that hive with another that has a queen? How long does it take a hive to develop a laying worker? Should I just let them go? Anything else on the subject would be appreciated.
Thank you and best wishes,
Let me weave around a bit, if I may, to put what is happening in honey bee survival in context. The colony has recognized that for whatever reason their personal and genetic survival is at risk. Maybe the queen failed and was replaced or superseded and the replacement was eaten by a bird or a thunderstorm washed her to ground and she drowned on a mating flight or maybe the drones were shooting blanks and she is infertile because of damaged sperm. Regardless, the colony’s prime directive to survive and pass on those genes, which have allowed them to survive by swarming and producing virgin queens and drones to mate with other colony’s virgin queens and drones, has hit the biological wall.
All of the workers are sexually undeveloped females whose sexual organ development is restrained by chemical cues that the functioning fertile queen produces. Genetics is fascinating and what happens next is also programmed genetically in each honey bee. When the functioning queen disappears and those chemical cues stop, some of the female workers after a few weeks will start developing ovaries that can produce eggs. But these are unfertilized eggs as the workers are unable to mate and receive and store sperm from drones. Unfertilized eggs, as you know, can become male drones in an equally interesting fashion that does not require a sperm/egg fertilization event. The colony is in genetic survival mode now and the only way they can pass on some of the colony’s traits is to have a last gasp attempt for some female worker bees to take on some aspects of a honey bee queen. In this case it is laying workers unfertilized egg laying and some production of queen-like odors and pheromones that are recognized by the colony as queen-like. The colony “thinks” or reacts as if it has a real queen. It sends out any drones produced by laying workers successfully to hopefully mate with any virgin that enters a DCA (Drone Congregation Area) to spread this last try of genetics around. That is why requeening a colony that has laying workers is so tough. The colony thinks it has a queen(s) and all is relatively well. Why accept a new foreign queen, if you are a colony, if all indications are you have one already?
And in everything honey-bee related, cross your fingers! Hang in there and Good Luck.
Dear Jerry, thanks a lot. That was QUICK and informative. I appreciate it.
Q AVOIDABLE PROBLEMS?
I hope you don’t mind me asking you a bee question. I started two hives this year (packages) in top-bar hives. One is at my house and doing very well. The other is at some property I own about 90 miles away, which means I can’t check on it often. I checked it this weekend and I think there is a problem.
Two weeks ago when I checked it, there was liquid on the bottom of the hive (toward the back, away from the colony). I was thinking/hoping that it was spilled sugar syrup and the bees would clean it up. I also checked the hive pretty thoroughly; it was about 52 degrees. At that time, they had drawn comb on 11 bars.
Saturday, I checked the hive again. It was warmer (mid 60s) and the bees were flying pretty well. However, there was still a bunch of liquid in back of the hive. I drilled some holes to allow it to drain and tried to make sure it wasn’t leaking when it rained.
When I checked the comb, there was still comb on 11 bars (they hadn’t added any). I found a lot of empty cells, but I did see one bee chewing its way out. However, in my hive at home, the queen is laying eggs faster than the bees can draw out comb. Here, there weren’t eggs in most of the empty cells. I did see eggs, larvae and the queen, but the number of empty cells bothered me.
What also bothered me was that I saw bees with malformed wings. I know there is a malformed wing virus, typically associated with mites. I did not see mites ... I did not kill bees, I just scanned the live bees. Is it possible that I chilled the brood the last time I was in there and some of the survivors are emerging with malformed wings? Could the excess liquid that was in the hive be part of the problem? I did bring two of the bees with malformed wings home and stuck them in my freezer if that is of any use in diagnosing the problem.
The other part of this is I sprayed some herbicide in a field fairly close to the bees. It was butyric (2 4DB) which has low toxicity to bees. That afternoon, I went back to check on the bees again (did not go in the hive), and there must have been 20 bees crawling on the ground in front of the hive. All had deformed wings. I don’t think it was the herbicide; I think it was them either being kicked out of the hive or trying to fly and couldn’t.
Any thoughts would be appreciated.
Hey Jim, if it were easy, everybody would be doing it. There are many variables in a colony of honey bees. Here are a few quick thoughts for my part. Your description of deformed wings indicates Deformed Wing Virus (DWV), which is always associated with Varroa mites. Problem is once replicating, even if Varroa is reduced or eliminated temporarily, you have this Varroa “legacy” of many viruses taking advantage of the immune suppression associated with Varroa. Varroa and the Varroa legacy is always a problem if Varroa gets above 10% in a sample size. Chilled brood will either die or live. It won’t cause malformation of body parts.
A screened bottom board in any colony is a good first step. However, you will still need to use other treatments to gain any real control of your mite problem. Apivar, Apiguard or Mite Away Quick Strips are three of the most used and effective legal mite treatments currently available in the United States. In addition to using one of these treatments, make sure the colony has plenty of nectar and pollen to help it regain its bee population. Feed both sugar syrup and pollen supplement if needed.
Eleven frames drawn out sounds pretty good. It all depends from this point on the balance between and among the laying capability of the queen (queen variability), number of nurse age bees to care for larvae and the number of foragers and forage able to be accessed. Get anyone one of these out of balance and the colony will re-balance itself, but varying the amount of brood that can be raised successfully and/or attempt to replace the queen.
I strongly doubt that the herbicide impacted the bees you saw crawling with deformed wings. This was an indication of a significant Varroa infestation. Sample, sample, sample by pulling drones, sugar dusting or alcohol wash or all 3.
You are right, it has to be rain water or sugar syrup leakage on the back of your bottom board. However, if you had a screened bottom, you wouldn’t have this problem.
Q EXERCISES IN FUTILITY?
Dear Jerry: I look forward to your question and answer section in the American Bee Journal. Three questions:
1. Have you changed your mind or are hesitant on feeding honey back to the hive? I would think that if we heated the honey to above 140 degrees F., we would kill bacteria and virus and below 180 F. not to darken it or significantly harm the honey. Yes, we would also deplete the good enzymes and lower the quality of the honey (taste and color), but I would think it would still be better then syrup or sugar water. I’m not sure, but I think sometimes when we feed sugar water too long, Nosema seems to be a problem.
2. If we suspect disease or just for hygiene sake, can we have a bucket of chlorinated water to dip our frames in or even our supers and then dip again in fresh water and let air dry. I have read about people decontaminating bee equipment at food irradiation facilities to kill the germs, but this is not possible for most of us to do.
3. I put a walk-in freezer on the farm for a few reasons. I can freeze and kill wax moth/ small hive beetle easier, don’t have to extract if other projects on the farm need to be done first and also, it lets me keep frames of honey to extract for the Boy Scouts, etc. through the winter in a clean environment. I leave it on/off on a timer every other day down to 0 zero degrees F. Other than a high electric bill, are there any pros or cons on the freezing for an extended amount of time?
Good Morning Drew. Let me see if I can help you with your questions:
1. Honey may be full of pathogens, but because of its low moisture content, many of them, cannot grow or reproduce and in most cases they die as moisture is sucked out of them if they are not spore-forming bacteria. American foulbrood (AFB) has a spore stage that can remain viable for decades. AFB just waits for the proper moment to get transferred to a honey bee larvae gut. Heat doesn’t do anything to the spore stage unless it is above the boiling point. Heating the honey to 180F may damage or kill some of the spores, but anything less that 212 F is a partial effort in futility. Plus, if honey is heated, sugar is changed to carbon and HMF (Hydroxymethylfurfural) is produced. This carbon is additional “roughage” that is hard for the bees to digest and increased HMF is also not good for the bees. Pure sucrose that is sold in the grocery store (which has a food ingredient acid like Cream of Tartar, found most likely in your baking ingredient’s cabinet, that has been added to the sugar syrup mixture you make to change or invert the sugar into a more digestible food for the bees) is much better than real honey heated beyond repair.
2. Chlorine solutions do not do much disease disinfecting or sanitizing as the frames and supers are usually coated by the bees with wax/propolis which makes the Chlorine water solution bead up and not get in surface contact with AFB and Nosema spores or viruses long enough to do much good.
3. Freezing is a great non-chemical way to control many honey bee secondary predators like Wax Moths and Small Hive Beetles (SHB). Wax moth eggs laugh at cold, so 0 F. for a couple weeks is better than every other day. SHB eggs and adults are more sensitive to cold.
Jerry thank you—that’s why you are the big man on campus. God gave you a blessing with the bees. Always use his gift wisely! Thanks again and God Bless
Thank you Drew for the compliment and for recognizing the hand of God in all we do.
Q NOSEMA PRESENTATION
Thank you for the Nosema presentation you did at Three Rivers in St. Peters last month. It’s the best info I’ve seen/ heard on Nosema and wondered if you could provide a good reference for general beekeeping use.
Fortunately, I haven’t had any Nosema problems with my bees, but a good friend who lives a few hours away just sent bees to the Beltsville lab and Nosema was the diagnosis. Since this is a great time of year to read more, I’d appreciate a good resource/articles regarding disinfecting / preventing spread etc., to share with him.
Also, I sent a bee sample last fall for a hive I’d treated for mites with Hopguard, but the lab said varroa was the diagnosis and gave a mite load per 100 in the report. I was a bit concerned since I had heard it was as effective as Apiguard. What is a benchmark for varroa, Nosema, etc., we can compare for this region? Thanks so much for your info!!
Mary Ellen Raymond
Good Morning Mary Ellen and thank you for the compliment. I would go to Google and type in “Nosema Honey Bees University of Florida. A You Tube video from Dr. Jamie Ellis should be at the top. Take a look.
Don’t worry about the Nosema diagnosis since almost all honey bees have it at some level. Your bees are harboring it now along with your good friend’s bees. It is when it is reproducing that it is a problem. The real problem is knowing what triggers Nosema reproduction in the honey bee gut.
Hopguard does a decent job of killing phoretic varroa mites; the varroa that are not behind capped brood cells reproducing and riding around on adult workers. Hopguard does not penetrate capped cells nor does it last long enough in a colony before the bees tear up the strips and remove the product. The problem is that 2/3 of mites are behind capped cells ready to emerge and you have to have a product that will be efficacious for a brood cycle of 3 weeks to get most of the brood/ varroa cycle.
If you sample 100 bees with powdered sugar or alcohol wash and you get 10% or more mites in the brood nest sample, then you need to treat. Don’t worry about Nosema since nobody knows when to treat because it comes and goes, until it has caused problems.
MARY ELLEN RESPONDS:
Thanks so much for the insight on Hopguard. I thought I asked lots of questions before trying it this year instead of Apiguard, but apparently not the key question re: effectiveness behind capped brood or longevity—bummer! What would your recommendation be at this point, since we’re about to launch into rearing lots of brood and it’s almost as if I hadn’t treated now?
Thank you so much for your help!
Mary Ellen Raymond
If your outside temps are in the 60-70 F range, I like Apiguard. Works well, no major residue issues and user friendly. Always follow label directions.
Q NICOTINE FIT
I read somewhere that tobacco smoke kills varroa mites. Is there any truth to this? Thank you.
Nicotine from tobacco was one of the first insecticides used to kill pests. You most likely have also heard about the tars in tobacco that harm human smokers and lead to various lung diseases. Both Nicotine and tars can be effective on destructive insects.
But we like a good insect. Remember that anything introduced as an insecticide into a colony of honey bees will harm the honey bee, as well at some level and to some degree if you do not know the dosage or exposure or the toxicity. The smoke, of course, also will not kill varroa protected by the capped brood cells. Plus, tobacco smoke is not a labeled by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a Varroa control product.
So, other than being an unlabeled, unapproved varroacide that carries a pesticide in the form of Nicotine and harmful tars that coat beeswax comb and the inside of the hive like somebody’s lungs, it sounds like a great idea. Just being facetious ... don’t do it.
Thank you for your column in the American Bee Journal. I read that article first, even if I don’t have time to read anything else. My wife and I are new beekeepers. We have harvested honey for the first time last year. We stored our honey supers and comb in what we thought was a mouse-free shed, but found this spring that mice had gotten into the supers. They had eaten some of the comb and there were mouse droppings.
What should we do now? We don’t want to throw away practically new frames and comb, but we also don’t want to harvest honey that has been contaminated by mice droppings and probably urine. Thanks again for your article and your response.
N and J, in Missouri
Welcome to beekeeping and don’t feel bad because mice are hard to keep out of stored supers. Mice always find a way to a free meal and a safe, comfortable nesting place. You know now, so it will be better this year.
If it were me, I would hate to lose this tremendous resource (drawn combs) that your colony(ies) can use. Try this as an idea: Destroy the damaged and contaminated wax combs and replace them with new foundation. Undamaged or uncontaminated combs in the super that were located away from the mouse nest, comb damage and dropping could be salvaged by dipping them in a mixture of bleach and water, rinsing them in clean water and then allowing them to air dry in the sun.
N & J RESPOND:
Thank you very much for your response! I will definitely do that. Does the wood frame need to be replaced as well or just the comb/insert?
JERRY HAYES REPLIES:
I think just the comb unless the frames are badly damaged as well. The bees will coat the woodenware parts with natural antibacterial propolis.
Q Swarm Trap
Through my years of beekeeping I have enjoyed using swarm traps and watching scouts choose the trap and then try to sell it to other scouts and the swarm. I have always had luck in previous years, but this year I haven’t succeeded though there have been multiple close calls.
My question is about what is going on at my trap. Bees continue to show interest and some of them are laying down wax on the tree where the trap is located near the entrance to the trap and on the face of the box itself. Any idea of what is going through the minds of these bees?
My Dad used to say that “the more you know, the less you know.” I think this is appropriate to share here. I don’t really know. However, I do know that swarming was very sparse this spring in many northern states plagued by a late, cool, wet spring.
There is quite a bit of competition amongst and between new “nest scouts” and other “new nest” scouts. This is a sales job by the scouts and apparently the scouts that have located your swarm trap are simply losing the sale. One would think that after it had been selected previously, that it would still be attractive. Has there been any change in what it might have been exposed to when stored (chemicals), or used? Is it at the same height or has that changed to a lower one that might not be as saleable to the swarm? Are the colonies that were issuing the swarms dead and there simply aren’t any?
For some reason or another, shape, smell, location, orientation, solar gain, activity in the area and who knows what else is impacting swarms, if they are there, that are looking negatively at the site. Change it around next season and see what happens.
Q WACKY COMB BUILDING
Hello, I have had a lot of help from your column and am grateful for it. I am having a problem with some package bees I have. They are building on the empty frames, but are building parallel to them so they have tunnels and this makes it hard to observe their progress. What is the best way to fix this and prevent it in the future?
Hey Kaleb, you know what? I have had the same exact problem. This is what I have been doing. I have been going in and removing the “wrong” comb and forcing the colony to build on the foundation. I have taken that “wrong” comb and melted it down and used a paint brush to coat the foundation with the melted beeswax. It seems to help. The bottom line is that the bees don’t seem to like the foundation, so you have to do something more creative.
Q SOILX ATTRACTING HONEY BEES
We have lots of flower gardens, but few bees until we just cleaned our deck furniture, etc., with a product called SoilX powder cleaner. Now we have literally swarms of bees all over the rocks in driveway where we washed furniture, the rags and the deck. The bees seem to be attracted to the cleaning chemicals. What is in there they are after and is it toxic?
SoilX has been discontinued and has been replaced by Soilmax. Soilmax ingredients are Phosphoric Acid 6%, Phosphoric Pentoxide 6%, Dichlorobenzalkonium chloride 3% and Oxalic Acid 1%. So, you have minerals, salts and acids basically. Honey bees are attracted to some minerals and salts as part of their complete nutrition. No different than you or I or our pets, livestock etc., needing trace minerals and salts for health.
Whether these minerals, salts and acids are toxic to honey bees is another question. Anything can be toxic, based on its dosage and concentration. Drink enough distilled water and it will kill you. But, apparently, they like the trace elements you have provided. A good rinsing with clean water should decrease the bee attractiveness.
The Classroom July 2013
by Jerry Hayes
(excerpt)DOES THIS MEAN WAR.....RE?—COMMENT
Great stuff, Jerry! I just read your excellent reply to David Heaf’s ridiculous defense of Warre hives. Let’s move forward instead of stumbling back into the Dark Ages with Warre and Top Bar Hives. I’m getting fed up with the noise from fringe bee folks who have issues with Langstroth equipment. Sure, it’s fun to play with new ideas, but it gets irritating when those dilettantes expect to be taken seriously. Stick to your guns!
Q Selected Breeding?
I have a 2 hives that I would like to get several queens out of. Both hives have different genetics. Will the drones from hive A mate with the virgin queen from hive B, if I trap the drones from hive A in hive B with the virgin queen from hive B in the top hive super with a queen excluder underneath to keep the drones and the virgin queen from escaping, or does the mating HAVE to take place in flight?
Virgin queens and the male drones mate in the air while flying in locations known as Drone Congregation Areas or DCA’s. No mating takes place other than in these free-flight areas. DCA’s can be miles from the colony location of the virgin queen and attract drones from colonies again miles from the DCA. The virgin queen will mate with up to 20-40 drones and store this sperm in an organ in her body called a spermatheca for the rest of her life to use to fertilize eggs and produce worker bees. This tremendous genetic mix and all the traits found from multiple drone matings is the honey bee’s survival plan to prevent genetic weaknesses that would jeopardize the entire colony health such as mating with drones she has produced.
Your queens are successful because they have mated with multiple drones which have allowed colony survival. Maintaining this exact trait mixture is almost impossible with open matings.
Q Vaporizer Treatment?
Hi Jerry, Thanks for all your time, couldn’t do it without your help. Just wondering what your thoughts are on vaporizer treatments (mineral oil, oxalic acid)?
Confused in Pennsylvania
Thank you for the compliment, but we are all in this together and we all can learn from each other.
Vaporizing mineral oil got attention 5 + years ago as a different way to theoretically control varroa. The supposition, which makes sense on the surface, is that if you can get enough mineral oil on an exposed (phoretic) varroa mite, you can clog up its breathing tubes and suffocate it to death. After a while, beekeepers who tried this realized that two-thirds of varroa are behind capped cells reproducing and not exposed to mineral oil fog. So, what do you do then? You fog with mineral oil even more to get all the mites that are emerging daily on new workers. What they then discovered is that they were coating every bee in the colony with mineral oil many times and they had a layer of oil on them and all their hair was plastered down with oil and all schlucked (is that a word) up. Plus, they were coating all of the comb and bee bread and nectar/honey before capping with oil. If it were a good idea, it would be universally adopted and used......but it isn’t.
I am going to pretend you have a dog. Your dog has a tick on it. Would you dump you dog in mineral oil to kill the tick? How long would your dog look all oiled up and would it help the dog?
Oxalic acid is a harsh acid. It can be vaporized and used to control Varroa and is commonly used for varroa control in Europe. They use it maybe once or twice in late fall, maybe early winter, to control the exposed (phoretic) mites at that time of the year. They do not use it more often as it is really tough on the bees and even tougher on the queen. Remember, any varroa control treatments will have an effect on the queen because she is longer lived and is exposed to every treatment you use. The workers will be dead in a few weeks and replaced by new unexposed workers, but the queen gets it every time. So, whether it is formic acid, oxalic acid or strip varroacides (pesticides), the queen is exposed to the chemical every time and she may fail earlier because of them. These products can be tough on the beekeeper as well if a respirator is not used. For example, oxalic acid causes calcium to leach from your bones and can cause kidney stones, etc.
I think there are several varroa control combination techniques that can be used without greasing the colony or burning it with acids. How about Apiguard used in conjunction with screened bottom boards and hygienic queens to name one possible combination.
Q Apilife Var
It has been some while since I sought your response, but here I am again!
Last Saturday I started to treat 4 hives for varroa mites with the Apilife Var wafer strips as per instruction. This was the first treatment. Within 24 hours, one hive was abandoned completely and the swarm of bees luckily landed in our mango tree, some 16 ft. up. I noticed them early Sunday morning and then caught them for relocation into a nuc. It was a very large swarm, with just a few bees left behind. In my opinion, this appears not to be an early spring swarm, but more directly related to the use of the Apilife Var. Are there any recorded situations on the negative effects of this treatment?
Appreciate your valued response.
Palm Beach Beekeepers Association
ApiLife Var is a combination of volatile essential oils, thyme, menthol, eucalyptus which produce a plume of these scents, aromas, irritating odors that negatively affect Varroa, but in high enough concentrations the colony itself can also be affected, as you have experienced. On the label for ApiLifeVar there may be instructions and directions for the optimal temperature to use it at. Have the ambient temperature too low and the volatile essential oils do not “off gas” enough to provide varroa control. Have the temperature too high and they “off gas” too much and it becomes suffocating, if you will, for the colony. Too intense and they abscond as you have found out. This has been seen in Florida before with Mite Away Quick Strips, and Apiguard. In Florida it is not only elevated temperatures, but humidity as well which intensifies the plume of varroacide coming off products like these. Temperatures in the 50’s to lower 60’s F are better than higher for your part of the world and if coupled with low humidity even better. Get the combination right and it can be an effective varroa control agent.
Q Nozevit vs. Fumagillin
In one yard my bees struggled through winter (7 hives died = 25% loss). In another smaller yard they are thriving (no losses). In the struggling yard I find spotting (or what looks like spotting/defecation) on the hive covers AND on some frames within the colony. I’m guessing Nosema...apis/ceranae? Do I really care which unless the treatment is different? What I can’t find is a comparison of Nozevit and Fumagillin, nor whether one of these is for Nosema apis and the other for Nosema ceranae. What prompts some of my confusion (personal genetics aside) is a recent article in which the author used both drugs in combination.
Last question: Is there a single best source where all beekeeping short courses are listed?
Thanks for your continued help.
Sorry for your losses, but 25% is not unusual and may be a bit better or a lot better than many. And isn’t it interesting that because of perhaps an intersecting and merging of genetics, forage selection, microclimate , disease sharing, and probably varroa control products or timing of varroa control that you have this stark comparison between two yards of honey bee colonies?
Nosema ceranae appears to have replaced Nosema apis in most locations in the US. Nozevit is made from Oak bark and Fumagillin is an antibiotic used for decades. Neither one works consistently because timing of treatments is important, but one really never knows when that might be. Both types of Nosema have cyclical fluctuations and come and go. But, when you have visual confirmation because of spotting or other signs, it is generally too late to treat and have a remarkable turn around. You can treat and cross your fingers.
The recent author you remembered treated using both again because neither works very well and so why not just use both and hope for the best. The problem with this is that all chemicals used on and for honey bees have their own side effects and collateral damage because they are stressors, too. One of the best things for active Nosema is spring and good flying/defecating weather. Replacement of the dead and dying bees, that are reservoirs of reinfection, is very helpful. This spring brood rearing by a robust queen having lots of food resources coming in does wonders for the Nosema-infected colonies.
I do not know of a one-stop shopping site for “beekeeping short courses”. The Newsnotes section and web calendars of both the American Bee Journal and Bee Culture magazines are good starting points. However, the course organizers have to make the effort to send their announcements in early in order to get them listed. Local and state association newsletters and web sites are other excellent sources for this type of information. Google the Internet for beekeeping short courses and you will probably also receive some good information.
Hang in there Art, it will get better.
Q Poor Misunderstood Drones
I appreciate the work you do for the American Bee Journal magazine. I have learned a lot from your Q & A sessions. There are 2 questions that I have not been able to find an answer to, either from books, magazines or other beekeepers. I would appreciate it if you could answer these for me. Thank you.
Question # 1. What besides being a sex object do the drones provide for the colony? Besides your answer, I have a theory that I was wondering if you could comment on.
When I put in frames that had no foundation in them, the colony makes drone cells first on these which produced drones. Subsequent frames were of normal size. My thinking is that with a hive that is coming out of winter, the drones make up a crucial part of the hive. They leave the hive when the weather warms up for the day and come back from their mating areas in the evenings. By doing this they are not running around the hive during the day when the hive is active with all of the comings and goings.
When they return for the evening, their large body size produces more warmth per bee than their smaller sisters for the hive overall. This also allows the worker bees to not have to use as much energy during the evening to keep the hive warm. So the hive gets the warmth in the evening without having the crowding during the day.
Question # 2. Since the drone bees are out all day, it would only make sense that they must be eating while out. Do they then bring back some residue on them, when they return, that is beneficial to the hive that other bees clean off? Would this not also allow the hive another way of finding new food and pollen sources?
Thank you for your time.
Brush Prairie, WA
Drones are simply a way to deliver sperm in flight to a virgin queen. They are, in fact, flying sperm. Remember, the prime directive of honey bees is too survive long enough to spread their genetics around as soon as possible in spring by ‘swarming’. Our European honey bees are always preparing for winter, so having the reproductive systems in place to build up to a strength that allows them to asexually reproduce by swarming (division) with a sexually mated queen is very important to them. They also must do this early enough to still have time enough for the colony to find a home, build comb, grow and store enough food for the winter that will come in a few months. To do all these things requires drones to be reared early in spring, as they will deliver genetics to virgin queens that come to Drone Congregation Areas to mate as early in the spring as their colony strength and weather will allow.
If drones were that great at providing body warmth, the colony would keep them all winter. At most, they represent only 10% or less of the colony population and are resource sinks for food and care. After X period of time in Spring/Summer, they are expendable and allowed to die.
Drones are not out all day. They go out for a few hours to the local drone congregation area and then come back to feed themselves or to be fed by worker bees.
Thanks for the questions and the compliment.
The Classroom June 2013
by Jerry Hayes
Jerry in your April “Classroom” there was a question about Fumagillin and Nosema. My question is regarding the damage to queens that you mentioned in your answer. Can you tell me what that is?
After a few lunch hours, this is what I came up with doing some literature reviews for you. This information may be in some kind of order and maybe not:) Take a look.
1) “Due to the global prevalence of N. ceranae, displacement of Nosema apis, a closely related species, has been hypothesized.” (Chauzat et al., 2007, Chen et al., 2008, Klee et al, 2007 and Paxton et al., 2007)
2) “could be due to additional routes of transmission such as food borne or vertical transmission. N. ceranae, unlike N. apis, has been detected in the hypopharyngeal and salivary glands.” (Chen et.al., 2009 and Gisder et al., 2010)
3) “Infection of immature developing queens is a possibility if N. ceranae can be spread through brood food.” (Higes et.al., 2009)
4) “Heavily infected queens (N.apis) may have smaller ovaries and empty ovarioles” (Hassanein, 1951), “degenerated oocytes leading to infertility”, (Liu, 1992), “and more frequent supersedure.” (Farrrar)
5) “In newly emerged queens, we observed abdomens, thoraces, heads, and ovaries infected at low levels with N. ceranae.” (Traver and Fell, 2012)
6) “We analyzed the impact of N. ceranae on queen physiology. We found that infection by N. ceranae did not affect the fat body content (an indicator of energy stores), but did alter the vitellogenin titer (an indicator of fertility and longevity), the total antioxidant capacity and the queen mandibular pheromones, which surprisingly were all significantly increased in Nosema-infected queens. Thus, such physiological changes may impact queen health, leading to changes in pheromone production that could explain Nosema-induced supesedure (queen replacement).” (Alaux et.al., 2011)
7) “Our chemical analysis demonstrated that Nosema can significantly modify pheromone production in queens”. (Alaux et.al., 2011)
8) “Many Nosema species infect ovaries of reproductive female hosts and are transmitted from the infected females to their offspring” (Becnel and Andreadis, 1999)
9) “Nosema infection in honey bee queens may affect the development of eggs and even stop reproduction.” (Liu,1992)
10) “N.ceranae-infected bees produced more mature infective spores (80 95%) than N. apis infected bees (57 83% mature spores). Because immature spores are not yet infective and primary spores are only infective to other cells within a bee’s midgut tissues and are not transmissible among hosts, N.ceranae may have a competitive advantage with its higher ratio of mature infective spores.” ( Wei Fone Huang et.al., 2012)
11) “N. ceranae produce approx. 8 million spores per day, and N. apis produced approx. 4 million spores per day in fully developed infections.” (Wei Fone Huang et. al Al., 2012)
12) “Tissue degeneration and cell renewal impairment induced by infection would be two of the main factors leading to serious mortality during continuous intestine Nosema infection.” (Dussaubat et.a
13) “N. apis tends to be associated with increased defecation and the spread via a fecal oral pathway, but because N. ceranae does not induce defecation, it may instead be spread via an oral oral pathway.” (Smith, 2012)
14) “Oocytes in queens infected with Nosema for only 7 days were already degenerated. The ovarioles sheath became wrinkled. In the ooplasm, yolk granules broke down into small spheres and granular substances and the oocytes became extensively autolysed.” (Liu, 1992)
Wow, that is enough to keep a guy awake at night. The problem for us is Fumidil seems to have little effect on high numbers. We are working on that and other ways to keep numbers down.
Thank you for all your good research on your lunch hour!
JERRY HAYES RESPONDS
My take-away message on this is that all honey bees have N. ceranae, but they mostly can keep it in check with their immune systems. However, it may still cause queen problems even at low chronic levels and since it looks like it can spread in larval food/royal jelly, it never goes away. Then there is the Fumidil piece that sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but if you get a full blown N. ceranae infection, it is too late and really doesn’t work at all plus Fumidil causes its own collateral damage. Don’t stay awake too much tonight.
Q FRAME FEEDER Honey Bee GRAVE YARD?
Thanks for all your great advice. I am sure I’m like most readers, when I get my ABJ I always read “The Classroom” first.
My question is about frame feeders [division board feeders]. My wife and I are just about to start our 5th year keeping bees. We both really love it. We have tried most types of feeders and as with most things in beekeeping, find different feeders have their pros and cons. When we used frame feeders we saw a lot of “drowning”. We used the ones with textured sides and put floats in them, but still found lots of dead bees. And filling frame feeders chuck full of bees has its own issues. Since that experience, we have changed to using pail feeders above the inner cover. The bees take the syrup well with no drowning. Now to my question. Some of my beekeeping friends, who I truly respect and have many years of beekeeping experience, tell me the dead bees we find in the frame feeders have not drowned. They tell me undertaker bees find it easier to put dead bees found in the hive into the feeders than it is to take them outside to dispose of them. They say this is possible because the bees don’t consider the area inside of the frame feeders as part of the hive. I guess this is possible, but I’m having a hard time with this line of thinking. So my question is: Are the dead bees found in frame feeders a result from drowning or from bees placed there by undertaker bees or some of both?
Thanks for all your help,
Interesting ideas from your friends, but no, feeders are not wastebaskets. Inside the colony is meant to be kept relatively hygienic and garbage goes outside, regardless of feeders or pollen traps, or SHB traps or whatever containers we put in hives. The colony does not want a pile of rotting relatives in the hive if they can remove them. No different than your trash can in your kitchen. Would you leave it there with food scraps, greasy paper towels and empty food packages to start decomposing and stinking or take it outside to the big garbage can?
Tell your friends I have some swamp land for sale in the Arctic that does not freeze because of the warmth of Polar Bear breath.
Q SLICK QUESTION
I have been using “grease patties” in my hives for several years now with positive results. Have you ever heard of anyone wiping down the inside of their supers with a very thin layer of vegetable shortening to make the hive environment less hospitable to mites? Do you have an opinion about whether it would be helpful to do so?
David, after the introduction /finding of tracheal mites in the 1980’s, it was discovered that the use of vegetable shortening patties placed in a honey bee colony could confuse tracheal mites when locating very young adult honey bees to parasitize. In the following 30 years tracheal mites killed off the weak bees and only resistant bees seem to have persisted. Not that those tracheal mites are not eliminated, just that mostly resistant honey bees dominate. Tracheal mites simply are not as big a problem now as they were years ago.
Varroa mites are not affected by the use of veg. shortening patties. So, maybe you don’t need it at all. What do you think?
Q Honey Production in Argentina
I am enjoying reading your Journal, and have a question. According to land mass, Argentina is smaller than the United States. Why is its honey production so high and comparable to the United States?
Hey Ron, good question. Argentina is a country of about 42 million people. Agriculture in the past in Argentina focused on dairy and beef production. They had lots of grazing lands and with grazing lands come lots of flowering plants and crops like clovers and alfalfa to support these industries. With that, of course, comes an opportunity for honey bees to collect high quality nectar to turn into high quality light colored honey that has a premium value. Up until a few years ago, Argentinean beekeepers consistently produced 100-120,000 metric tons per year.
However, like many countries, Argentinean farmers have seen the world demand and price of corn, soybeans and other grains reach record levels and have planted many, many more thousands of acres to these commodity crops and reduced the livestock industry and those forage needs. So now, production has dropped to the 70,000 metric ton range. Add in weather and rainfall and El Nino cold rains to the southern plains and the light colored honey crop was reduced and darker honeys predominate, which have less export value.
Like the US crop production, choices are changing, weather is changing (like the US drought), and other more lucrative crops can be produced which are a lot easier that honey production. Argentina’s honey production is still high in comparison to many countries, but is nothing like it was and most likely will be decreasing more if corn and soy prices stay high or go higher.
The Classroom May 2013
by Jerry Hayes
Q Warré Revisited—Commentary from David Heaf
In the March 2013 issue, in the section ‘The Classroom’, Jerry Hayes replied to an enquirer contemplating getting Warré hives: “I think you will find Warré hives to be a pain.” I started beekeeping in 2003 with frame hives, building up to 15 by 2006. Now I winter 15 Warrés and only three frame hives. Far from being a pain, I find Warrés a delight after frame hives.
Jerry Hayes sourced the pain in ‘inspections, harvesting and treatments, etc.’ He does not seem to have realized that Warré beekeeping involves a totally different mind set from Langstrothian beekeeping. The fundamental attitude change that is occurring is characterized by a shift towards putting the beekeeper’s needs second to those of the bee. Anthropocentric beekeeping is giving way to apicentric beekeeping.
Beekeeping evolves. Frame hives belong to modernism in beekeeping. We are now entering its post-modern era. Hive types rejected by modernists are coming back into use. And in natural beekeeping completely new hive types are being invented such as Claude Bralet’s cylindrical ruche sauvage in clay and wood and Günther Mancke’s sun hive, a two-part skep with rounded frames.
It’s like the change from fast food to slow food. The fixed combs of ‘slow beekeeping’ do indeed require more care in manipulation than framed combs. This is not a problem as the Warré hive is managed in a very different way from that of a frame hive. Intrusion in the brood nest is severely reduced. Many of the modernist manipulations that promote disease and cause horizontal pathogen transmission are thereby eliminated. But disease inspection, when necessary, is done with the help of a comb knife and special holder, as can be seen from the photo of a state bee inspector at work.
Harvesting a Warré involves an inbuilt disease minimization system: the combs are not re-used. They are very easily cut out, chopped and drained using kitchen equipment. No extractor is necessary. The colony is always moving onto new comb. A former state apiarist like Jerry Hayes will no doubt see the benefit of this for bee health. And there is no expense of foundation or frames, which create much work in assembly and disinfecting.
Finally, treatment: here too the attitude shift stands out. Most Warré beekeepers I have encountered do not treat. Instead they enhance the bee’s natural defenses and avoid putting chemicals in the hive. Miticides just postpone the day when bee and mite co-adapt. Warré bees feed on their own pollen and honey, not relying on artificial substitutes. As the bee super-organism has been likened to a mammal, the bee equivalent of ‘breast is best’ further enhances its health.
David, I respect your opinions and desires. I think that many beekeepers who are as conscientious as you probably have a minimum of colonies in their garden or backyard and could use a “comb knife” to separate free-form burrcomb that has been attached to other comb and hive boxes, etc. I think this step backwards in concept and design would ill suit a novice beekeeper and frustrate an experienced one who appreciates being able to easily, smoothly and effectively remove frames and comb to learn, evaluate and become a better beekeeper with something other than a Warré hive. There are a lot of top-bar hives that maintain that exquisite realization of “Bee Space” that has allowed a relationship with honey bees to grow and deepen because of the ease of entering this valued insect’s world. The Warré Hive does not. Managed Honey bees in 2013 require the partnership with a knowledgeable, visually comfortable and adept beekeeper in this age of Varroa, Nosema, Small Hive Beetles, AFB, and Varroa-induced viral conditions. This only comes from inspecting the honey bee nest easily, comfortably and efficiently.
As an experiment, a whim or a trial in lazy beekeeping, the Warré hive is a fine tool. But, for those who desire to be great students of honey bees to quote me again, “I think they will find the Warré hive to be a pain.”
Q ARE YOU PULLING MY LEG.....?
Somebody please set me straight if I need setting straight, but I respectfully think a statistical or mathematical fallacy is being too easily accepted by beekeepers and passed along as absolute fact: In this January ABJ, is the statement, “...as small hive beetle (SHB) larvae leave the colony..., they do not necessarily burrow into the ground...around the colony, as they can crawl 100-200 yards to find a good place to pupate.”
I believe I have seen that figure before. OK, I will accept for the sake of argument that they can do that much crawling. But that doesn’t mean they can be expected to end up as much as 200 yards away, or even 20 yards. I am told that a golfer typically walks 5 miles as he plays a round—that doesn’t mean that when he takes his ball out of the 18th hole, he is 5 miles from the first tee. Likewise, however many miles the mail carrier in town walks on his route, by the end of the day that isn’t how far he is from the post office where he filled his bag that morning. So it must be with our little larva; he crawls around, and even if he really could go 200 yards on his wee feet, it is random wandering, and he will probably be more likely to end up only a yard or two from where he started.
I have also heard it given as an accepted fact that a female SHB can fly 10 miles in search of a honey bee nest. I don’t know where that 10 mile number came from, but again I will accept it for the sake of argument. So, I marked off 10 miles on a map of Chicago, my home town. I had one heckuva time imagining that insect emerging from her pupal case at the level of Roosevelt Road on the south side, and flying 10 miles due north up Western Avenue because she caught the scent of somebody’s hive on Pratt Avenue on the far north side. No, I think that she flies all around and perhaps really does put 10 miles on her odometer searching for what she needs, but in no way is she going in a straight line any more than a larva or a golfer or a mail carrier is.
For the quick answer I have attached an OIE (World Animal Health Organization) chapter that covers some of what you were asking about with references. It is a relatively short read that mentions the “wandering phase of SHB larva” and the “flight distance” of the adults under the section “Life Cycle”. While in Florida as the Chief of the Apiary Section, and I know this is purely anecdotal, I have seen SHB larvae crawl 100 yards plus in order to get out of the dry hot sand to cooler, moister scrub and tree boundaries so they can successfully pupate. I have also reached out to Dr. Jamie Ellis who received his PhD in South Africa on SHB to see if he can expand this for you. He is the actual expert.
DR. ELLIS COMMENTS
Allen – good comments. The truth is, I don’t think we know for sure. I suspect that it’s not very likely that they [small hive beetles] “often” end up over 10 meters from the hive. However, in theory, they “can” crawl quite a distance. Using the same random walking scenario you offer... one random option is that the larvae wanders a straight line 200 yards away from the nest. I am not really aware of anyone who has studied larval wandering schemes in the wild. I can say that I was once rearing larvae in a 2nd story lab. One night, they crawled out the lab, down the steps, and out the front door of the building. This was probably 75 yards or more total crawling. So, I believe that most people writing about larvae wandering this distance are discussing the extreme rather than common.
To my knowledge, we know even less about SHB adult flight. I have seen the 5 10 mile radius and I’m not sure where the number originated. However, they would likely never be following an odor plum from 10 miles away. They would be “randomly searching” the area, thus leading them to follow an odor plum if they encountered one. Until mark/recapture studies occur, adult flight length seems quite speculative to me.
Q INVERT SUGAR
Thank you for the information source you provide each month. I look forward to reading your column and getting answers that are not easy to find anywhere else. Your answers are a great resource.
I keep reading about “invert sugar” and its use in making queen candy. My question is: Do you recommend using it in queen candy, and if so, what is the recipe, and how is it made?
Thank you and keep up the good work.
Thank you for the Classroom compliment. It is appreciated. I am going to offer some basic chemistry to you, whether you like it or not:) The sugar sucrose, which is the granulated sugar we all know and love, is called a disaccharide. Di means 2. It is a molecule made up of 2 monosaccharide sugars Glucose and Fructose. Mono means 1. So, you put 2 monosaccharides together and you get a disaccharide, 1+1=2.
When honey bees collect nectar that might have the sugar sucrose or other disaccharides in them, they use enzymes and acids to break apart the sugar molecule into glucose and fructose. Glucose and fructose are easier to digest and when converted to honey, it won’t crystallize as quickly when stored in the comb. This process change produces an “invert sugar” in layman’s terms. This takes energy from the individual bee to make and provide the enzymes and acids to make this transition from “invert” sucrose into glucose and fructose. That is why when you feed honey bees a sugar syrup solution, it is a lot better for them to have glucose or fructose rather than sucrose like we find in our granulated sugar on the store shelf or kitchen pantry.
If you really want to do this easily, just go to your local Super Big Box and find the sugar aisle. There will be small boxes of granulated/powdered fructose. You can use this to make the small quantities of queen candy you need by adding a bit of water to X amount of fructose and making a little fructose dough-like ball.
If you want to make larger quantities, because invert sugar is easier for honey bees to digest and use, you can make your own invert sugar at home with some simple acids that will break apart (invert) sucrose into glucose and fructose. In your kitchen right now you probably have a baking ingredient called “Cream of Tartar” which is an acid or you may have a fresh lemon that contains natural citric acid. If you take a kilogram, 2.2 pounds, of granulated sugar and add water to dissolve it into a syrup, then add 1 gram of Cream of Tartar, and heat to about 120 F for a few minutes, you will get a yield of approx 85% Glucose and Fructose in that syrup. You can do the same thing with fresh lemon juice and citric acid by adding 10 ml per kilo of granulated sugar.
Ron, this is more information than you really expected or really needed, but now you are the invert sugar expert for your beekeepers’ association:)
Q WHAT HAPPENED?
I have a question. I have 5 hives in my apiary; they all did very well this last year. I left approx. 80 to 90 lbs. of honey on each of them for the winter. The honey was throughout the center of 3 boxes on each hive. I leave a ventilator on each hive so moisture buildup doesn’t happen. We finally got a warm day so I could open the hives. I was very disappointed and confused. The hives are full of honey and the cluster of bees in each hive was dead and located right in the middle of frames full of honey. There isn’t any direction they could have traveled without finding honey. I visually looked the bees over, and can’t see any other problems.
The frames are all new, drawn out beautifully. I’m just not sure why they didn’t eat all of that honey to survive? Now my question is – do I leave all this honey on the hives for the packages that I’m going to install on April 13, or do I extract it on a warm day, and sell it.
Where are you located again? Sounds to me like maybe you had a small cluster and if I were to guess, you had a significant cold spell and the small cluster could not generate enough internal heat. As a result, they couldn’t move to the food even an inch away and froze in place. If this is the case, the honey could be used now and forward to bolster other colonies or future splits. What do you think?
Thank you for getting back to me so fast. I believe you are right. We live in Boise, Idaho, and we had record-breaking cold this winter--not so much in below zero weather, but in most consecutive days in single digits. It was an extremely long cold winter. I did notice a couple of things. No bees outside the hive on the ground, dead bees all over the bottom board, and dead bees on top of the inner cover. I use a ventilator that gives them space on top.
One thing I need to know is this. Did I help cause the problem by having three boxes on the hive for winter? But I had at least 7 or more frames of solid honey in each box. Is the perfect setup for winter just 2 boxes with several frames of honey in each box?
Unfortunately, you just confirmed that they froze. First, I would figure out how to get 10 + deep frames covered with bees as the minimum to go through an Idaho winter. I have spoken in Boise a few times and I know that on average they have less severe snowy winters that other parts of Idaho but......having more healthy bees is better than less. If the cluster is large enough and healthy enough and weather gives them a break every 3-4 weeks, they can access frames of honey in multiple boxes all winter. Your problem was critical mass--simply not enough bees. Hang in there.
Q WHAT TO DO, WHAT TO DO?
First, I enjoy and learn a lot from the classroom and wanted to say thank you. Second, I have two questions:
1) This April I am starting 8 packages of bees. Right now when you look out you can see all the hives have feeders on top of them and I am wondering if when I put the bees in the box, should I put in a brood patty or feed supplement and what kind of nutrition should I look for when buying those.
2) What preventive measure do I need to take to control disease and what kinds of medication can I buy and store until needed?
Thank you for your time
It all depends on what flowers might be blooming when the packages come in, that will produce a variety of pollens for the colony to turn into beebread and how much nectar might be available. If you will need the “bees” to expand foundation into usable beeswax comb, this requires lots of energy in the form of carbohydrates (sugars) in order for the bees to produce beeswax from the 6 glands on their abdomens. If you will be providing drawn comb, then the carb issue is less important that the protein, vitamin, lipids (fats) and minerals needed by the nurse bees to produce the liquid food needed by the developing larvae. These larvae will appear very soon since the queen will be laying quickly in the cells of the comb. This gets back to natural flower resources. The food supplements that you can buy are nutritionally incomplete and can help for a couple of weeks, but because they are not complete, the bees cannot utilize them efficiently long-term.
Unless you have a disease, you don’t need to treat for a disease. My biggest concern would be the Varroa mite and how this will impact your colony in a few months as it prepares for that first winter. Be thinking of treating in late summer with a product like ApiGuard or ApiLifeVar and stay away from chemical miticides if you can, but regardless, always follow label directions to the letter.
Exciting time Kaleb. You’ll do fine.
Q BACK TO THE FUTURE?
What do you think about treating for mites in the spring, for example a new package of bees? Ostensibly, this would wipe out ALL mites. If no other beekeepers were in the area, where would new mites come from? We have such a short season in the upper midwest, it’s nice to catch the late honey flow from aster and goldenrod without having to worry about mite treatments. I am curious to know what you think.
If you could do it and really eliminate 100% of Varroa mites and you were not within 5 miles of any other beekeeper or feral colony living in a tree or wall of an old barn someplace, you would be back in 1980 and beekeeping life would be good. Then, if you could make this consistent and sustainable, it would be amazing.
All it takes is 1 mated female Varroa mite that is resistant to whatever miticide(s) you are using and you are back to 2013.
Being able to determine when you have NO Varroa is the tough one. Even if you have a varroa-free situation, but then a swarm moves into within a few miles of you and foragers or scouts visit your colonies carrying mites hitchhiking, you are back to square one. But it is possible to pull this off...maybe. Good Luck.
Q PUZZLEMENT REVISITED
It’s a puzzlement-- the January ABJ made me think of one of my hives with a ½” screened bottom board. They built comb under the screen and that was where the queen was laying.
Joel K. Letvin
Usually that happens when there is a supersedure and the newly mated queen doesn’t make it into the hive proper, Joel. Could be other reasons like crowding and lack of comb space, but that is usually it. Half inch screen is a little too big for securing the colony and excluding everything else.
Q IT’S ALL ABOUT THE MITE
What are your thoughts on using drone frames for controlling mites (allowing them to be capped and freezing the brood)? Is it worth sacrificing a frame or two for this purpose as a part of a chemical treatment-free approach to control varroa?
I think as part of an IPM (Integrated Pest Management) Varroa control strategy that drone trapping along with some type of hygienic queens, screened bottoms and monitoring Varroa populations regularly will allow you to limit the use of varroacides in your colonies. There is little data to suggest what I am going to say, but I would not simply make drone trapping the focal point of Varroa control. Remember, that if you select to remove Varroa from drone brood that you are simultaneously selecting Varroa that has a greater affinity for worker brood.
I was kind of perplexed at first with your answer, but still had a basic understanding after some thought on it. However, I am reading The Hive and the Honey Bee cover to cover and am currently in the genetics and breeding chapter, and on page 248, the last few sentences under the heading “Hygienic Behavior”, helped me understand exactly what you meant by hygienic queens and their help to get rid and/or keep the mite population in check; for if the mites are removed by the workers, they stay removed much like them falling through the screened bottom board. This art of beekeeping just keeps me fascinated!
Sorry for the “honey bee speak” and the confusion about terminology, but I am glad you had a great resource like The Hive and the Honey Bee to explain better than I did. Honey bees are amazing along with our system of movable frame hives to allow us to engage with them.
Jerry, I have been a beekeeper for well over 50 years and have seen lots of changes, both good and bad. I keep reading about Neonicotinoids in the ABJ and elsewhere. My intention is not to get into a debate with anyone about who’s position is right or wrong (the anti-neonic advocates or the scientific weigh-all possibilities, supporters, of which I’m one I guess). But, there is way too much emotion on this subject and I wanted to give my 2 cents worth.
Please note that many coming from the research community are not saying that the Neonics are either benign nor that we shouldn’t take reasonable precautions in using them. They are mainly saying that to date the actual scientific studies have not shown a repeatable and definite link between the use of the Neonics and honey bee decline. They are open to any new, verifiable and statistically significant studies that may conclusively show a direct relationship.
In the meantime, and in the real world of agricultural production and crop protection, the other major stakeholders in this situation are saying that the Neonics greatly reduce the need for more toxic and costly pesticides. The Neonics were also developed, as you may know, to greatly reduce the overall environmental impact on non-arthropod species, which they do. I believe that the snag in communication that happens when these two groups express themselves comes from a fundamental difference in the way the two groups approach the situation: the anti-activists are appealing to emotion and concern about worst case scenarios; the scientific group is appealing to reason and scientific proof, as well as consideration of the practical consequences for all stakeholders.
If I may say so, from my 50+ years of beekeeping experience, one of the biggest stumbling blocks for beekeepers in dealing with pesticide issues has been to take an adversarial position with regard to not only their use, but towards the manufacturers and applicators of these products.
There are still some beekeepers who vociferously hold to that position of which you are probably aware. However, rather than helping to ameliorate or remedy the situation of unintended pesticide losses, that attitude has proven to exacerbate it.
After 30 years of keeping bees in Colorado and 20 years before that in California, I can tell you the adversarial stance creates more problems rather than solutions for beekeepers. As you are also probably aware, the EPA, Bayer and Syngenta are currently working on re-formulations of the adjuvants and planting lubricants used with many of these products, so that the exposure to non target species at planting is reduced or eliminated. That movement has undoubtedly come from concerns of beekeepers, but also because it’s not in anybody’s interest to be negatively impacting the pollinators. Also, as most of the stakeholders in the larger agricultural community try to follow an IPM protocol, reformulation and modification of useful products is the direction most will follow, rather than freaking about worst case scenarios.
So, for the time being anyway, it seems to me and many others I might say that the best course of action with regard to the Neonics is to encourage further sound research into possible long-term effects and continue to support the re-formulations and modifications that the manufacturers are currently doing with these products to make them less hazardous. There is still lots of room for the organic and non-pesticide folks to do their thing if they want to I believe. But in the larger environmental and agricultural sense, there also seems to be a place for the use of the Neonic products.
That’s my thinking on this issue. In any event, thanks.
The Classroom April 2013
by Jerry Hayes
Q Peri What?
I just sat through a presentation at a bee meeting about something called the “peritrophic” membrane and how in honey bees it is a problem if it doesn’t work right. Jerry, what is it in terms I can understand?
Marlin in Nevada
I am not an expert on the peritrophic membrane, but this is one of those really interesting words with a longish explanation that has a major honey bee connection. Hang on ... here we go.
I like to know what word meanings actually are so I looked up peritrophic. Peri means around and trophic means linked to food. Peritrophic membranes are not really membranes because membranes are made up usually of living cells. This would be better called a Peritrophic matrix as it is made up of chitin, the hard stuff the honey bee’s exoskeleton is made of, and protein fibers. The official definition of peritrophic matrix is: “a semi permeable, non cellular, very thin “structure” that surrounds a food bolus as it enters the honey bee mid gut.” Visualize a fine mesh material perhaps something like the fine mesh cloth or strainer bags used to filter your honey and filter out and contain the dead bees, legs, wings and hunks of wax.
Let’s call this peritrophic matrix the PM as I don’t want to write peritrophic matrix again:) The PM is made in the lining of the gut wall (intestine) of the honey bee. When food enters the gut, the PM sloughs off or delaminates and surrounds the food. The only good analogy I can think of is making sausage. Without the very thin, flexible, tough and permeable casing, the sausage wouldn’t be a sausage, hot dog or brat because it would not be contained in the casing that holds it together. The PM is a sausage casing or a mesh bag, depending how you want to visualize it.
There are several very cool and important reasons that honey bees and some other insect have a PM:
1) Digestion is improved. The PM mesh bag allows digestive enzymes to go in and out, digest the food and allow the now free and available proteins, vitamins, minerals and fats to leave the PM and be absorbed by the gut lining and bring nutrition to the honey bee. The indigestible stuff is left behind in the PM to be excreted with the PM bag/casing.
2) The PM mesh bag has small pores. Honey bees are exposed to many different kinds of naturally occurring plant toxins (poisons) as they feed on nectar and beebread. The miticides we use to control varroa are also toxins and honey bees, as they forage, are exposed to lots of other toxins they find in the environment. Some of these toxins are too large to pass from the inside of the PM through the small pores and leave. They are held behind and are excreted with the PM.
3) The same process can work with large pathogens as well. The food honey bees consume is filled with bacteria, fungi, yeast and viruses. The small pores in the PM can also filter out these if they are too large to fit through the small pores and will be excreted with all the other junk in 1 & 2.
So knowing this, why would a honey bee ever get sick if digestion and nutrition is improved and some toxins and pathogens are filtered out? Life is a competition. Disease organisms want to survive too and over the millennia have found ways to get over, through and past the PM. Viruses have developed enzymes to dissolve the PM and open a hole big enough to let them through to attack the living epithelial cells of the gut wall. Some miticides and other chemicals can also dissolve the PM enough to leak out and expose the honey bee to these toxins. But, perhaps the most dramatic is Nosema. It not only dissolves, but shreds the PM, leaving it in tatters--not only releasing Nosema spores to infect the gut wall cells, but all of the other toxins, pathogens and indigestible debris that the once intact PM held securely. When this continues it causes tremendous honey bee healthy challenges and shortened lives. Nosema is a big problem because of its ability to destroy the PM
Dr. Kate Aronstein, USDA/ARS and Dr. Tom Webster, Kentucky State University, are the leading researchers on the PM and how it affects honey bee health. As they learn more from their valuable research, we as beekeepers will as well. Having more knowledge on this subject is important.
Q Location - Don't Blame Philly!
I’ve asked you a couple of questions before, and you were nice enough to answer them, so here goes. Background: I started beekeeping in 2006 in central NY State. (near Ithaca and Cortland) And things went very well for me. Some of the books I read on beekeeping had me thinking that beekeeping in NY would be not very productive. My 2 colonies the first year yielded 6 medium supers of honey (I took 3 at the end of August and 3 more at the end of September) and had a hive body full of stores to winter over on. The next spring I split both hives and they did very well again.
So, 3 years ago I moved to just outside of Philadelphia, (I sold 10 colonies to another beekeeper, kept 2) and last year I brought one colony down to the countryside an hour’s drive from my place. At the beginning of August they were piling on honey and I gave them 2 supers. By the middle of August the supers were almost full and getting capped. By the middle of September the supers were all empty. By the end of September the bees had starved to death.
This spring I restarted with 2 nucs at two different locations. One nuc was poisoned a month after setting, the other nuc was doing so well after a month (10 frames of larvae and a hive body and a super full of stores) that I split it. I moved the surviving bees from the poisoned colony out of that location and into new equipment. By the end of August they looked like they were recovering and had supplies. My other two colonies were going gangbusters, 3 supers and a hive body full. I gave them 2 more supers (under the mostly full supers) and left them alone for 2 months. (It is not exactly easy to get over there.) In December they were all starving. I combined the 2 smallest ones and fed 3 gallons syrup to each. Now they are dead.
If I had been able to keep a closer eye on them, I may have been able to feed them enough to keep them going. But if I have to feed them over $100 worth of sugar and pollen patties every winter, it’s not worth it!
The mid Atlantic is supposed to be a great area to keep bees. So, I can’t help thinking that I am doing something fundamentally wrong. I keep the bees in two hive body boxes, and put supers on top when it looks like honey is coming in. I feed when they need it and put in small hive beetle traps when I see them. I have been looking for varroa mites, but I am not seeing them. No chalk brood (I had that in one colony up in NY). No sign of Nosema or dysentery, no sign of the foulbroods. They just seem to stop gathering and gobble everything up. I am “sharing” an apiary with the land owner and he lost 18 out of 20 so far this year. (He lost 13 out of 25 last year.)
If you can spot where I am screwing up, please tell me. Up in NY it was almost too easy. Or, if you know that Southeast PA is a lousy spot for beekeeping, I’d like to know that too.
Let me first start by saying that remote diagnosis is hard, but I really doubt that it is classic starvation. Starvation is characterized by lots of dead bees in a colony with many dead found with their heads first in cells as their final resting place. Many times there is stored honey left, but it was too cold for the bees to move the cluster or break the cluster to get to it. This certainly might have happened to you multiple times, but the odds are against it.
You said you don’t have Varroa and thus have never treated for it. I think that is the primary flaw in your plan. Every honey bee colony in North America has or will have Varroa mites. I was at a recent Bee Informed Partnership meeting and from their survey and sample collection of honey bees from colonies that were analyzed for Varroa, Tracheal mites, viruses, Nosema, etc., 93% of samples had Varroa. Varroa left untreated results in loss of colonies guaranteed from Varroa parasitizing bees directly, the viruses that “bloom” because of immune suppression of honey bees parasitized. Nosema goes crazy and the colonies die. Colonies can die or be so weakened that they can then be easily robbed out by surviving colonies, whether yours or others, giving the impression of starvation.
I don’t think the problem is “Philly”. I think it is honey bee health problems from untreated Varroa in August and all the baggage that comes with this. What do you think?
What is your answer for today regarding fumagilin? A lot has changed and much research has taken place since this product was introduced to beekeepers and we need to know “what’s the bottom line” regarding its use in 2013.
Thanks for your never ending help to all of us “old ‘n new timers”!
The problem with Fumagillin or anything else that we use on Nosema apis or ceranae is that these both are seasonally cyclical and “infections” can be enhanced or impacted by outside inputs and disappear on their own. One can sample consistently and find millions of spores in the sample, but have little negative colony health effects seen and sample 3 weeks later and Nosema can’t be found. Or you can sample the wrong bees and they will have no Nosema spores at all, but another cadre of bees will. Nosema of both varieties comes and goes. Active Nosema infections do not appear in all ages or castes of honey bees in a colony all the time. It seems to be found in some older foragers, but not all, more easily which kind of makes sense as they are old, on the downhill for general immunity and are and have been exposed to lots of chemicals—both pesticides used to control varroa and lots of stuff in the environment, which enhance Nosema infection.
The real questions are when do you sample to find general sources of Nosema, what is the Varroa impact as they cause immune suppression, what chemicals have the bees been exposed to that affect the Nosema infection and what time of the year is it or can you project what may happen with Nosema 3-6 months from now? Lots of confusing variables to not only consider, but “guess” about.
Some data on Fumagillin show it wipes out Nosema infections and other data show it does nothing at all. It depends on whose data you look at. And it is the same with all the other Nosema products on the market.
Nosema can have dramatic health effects on queens, so if I were a queen breeder, I would use it 24/7/365 to produce a quality product. If I weren’t, it is a flip of the coin of whether to go to the time and expense of using it. Sorry for the squishy answer, but those are the facts and my confusion as well.
Q Tricky Genetics
I was catching up with my reading and always read The Classroom first. I came across an explanation that you gave a reader about the bees being half-sisters, etc. You went one to solve a mystery that has been bothering me. I could never find a good explanation as to why so many queen cells appear during early spring swarm season in the same hive.
I would have guessed that making a new queen would be more of a consultative “sisterhood” process between the bees. The fact that they are passing on different genetics, 50% more, and fighting for their genetics to emerge is an amazing realization. As much as they work together, I think we are witnessing a little competition between the sisterhood.
I always imagined the spermatheca to be a mix of the mixes.....a mixture of the sperm from different drones. I didn’t think it would be like a layer cake. LIFO, as in last in first out, or FIFO, first in first out.
Your answer suggests the bees know that there are different genetics. I wonder how that could be? Thanks for your great column.
St. Louis, MO
Honey bees are certainly amazing and if one studied sea cucumbers or the parasitic mites that only live on us in our eye lashes or some plant that only grows on the east side of Mount Kilimanjaro we would be equally amazed at the structure of mechanisms of survival. Survival to pass those particular genetics on ahead of or in parallel with some other species is a fascinating topic that I don’t fully understand.
To get to your question of how the they “know” which developing larvae are most closely related to themselves is the secret to life as we know it. Scientists surmise that there are subtle karimone and pheromone differences that developing larvae produce that their sisters can identify above others.
To get philosophical, isn’t it neat that we have found a connection to the world that most ignore that in turn allows us the opportunity to be aware and ask these kinds of questions? Pretty cool.
Q Fun Times
After reading the December issue of ABJ and the Linda Lathrop letter in the Classroom section, I thought I would write you about a similar experience I’ve had with bees clustering on me. First a quick background: I run about 500 colonies here in Southern California. Anyway, a few years back I was pulling the last of the honey and breaking down hives in one of my yards. I believe it was in September or October. I was by myself and had caused quite a robbing epidemic. I have the bad habit of leaving my truck radio on while I work and that particular day I spent too much time in the bee yard as when it was time to go, the truck said no and wouldn’t start. I called my rescuers and decided to walk down the road away from the thousands of stinging bees. I walked a good quarter mile down the road and sat beneath a cottonwood tree to wait. After a few minutes, bees began to swarm around me and started to cluster on my arm and torso. After a few more minutes, my arm and torso were practically covered in bees. It amused me so I let it go on. My ride pulled up in astonishment. I shook the bees off, jumped the truck, and went about my business. I’ve always figured that the bees were attracted by the pheromones omitted by the attacking guard bees back in the yard. I must have stunk to high heaven of the juice. Just thought I’d share my experience. We’ve actually met once, in the elevator at the California Beekeepers Association Convention at Morongo. You asked me what I had learned so far. I think I’m still trying to figure that out :)
Thanks for the personal update, John. Bees are amazing. Anyone who says they know everything about honey bees is a liar! I am still trying to figure it out too. Fun though:)
The Classroom March 2013
by Jerry Hayes
Q Other Honey Bee Health Challenges
I have a question regarding other possible varied non-pesticide factors I have not heard mention of – perhaps because they have already been discounted as not impacting the general overall health of honey bees.
(1) Pollen & nectar sources. With changing landscapes come big changes in native food sources – some could be potentially toxic and different nutritional content. In Missouri, the conversion of native or farmland to suburban areas and introduction of Japanese vine and bush honeysuckle have essentially taken over and wiped out most natural flowering vegetation in greenways in the past dozen years. Bradford pear is another one that has completely replaced what used to be ubiquitous crabapples. And, of course... the “invented” battle against dandelion and clover that must force bees to seek alternatives.
(2) Water sources. Particularly in relation to transporting bees across country, such as seeking water at gas station puddles, suburban settling ponds, and rural ponds – not sure what might have changed there in the past 15 years, except drugs passing through cattle urine.
Thanks Austin for the great questions. Lots of folks like to focus just on pesticides and it is more than that. Honey bee health, either positive or negative, is a multi-factorial question. The list of the main challenges of honey bee health are: 1) Varroa; 2) the Varroa/Virus complex; 3) Nutrition; 4) Pesticides. One of the most important identified honey bee health influencers is at #3, nutrition. Not all pollen is created equally and so for complete nutrition honey bees evolved to collect and then transform a variety of pollens from a variety of plant species gambling for a full complement of the 10 essential amino acids, lipids, carbs, vitamins and minerals into a fermented pollen product called “bee bread”.
This is no different than humans requiring a diversity of foods. That is why Michelle Obama has pushed nutrition and the “Food Plate” advertising what we need to eat and how much. With a changing environment altered by urban and suburban dwellers and specifically for commercial beekeepers, who are more in demand now for fee-based pollination of pollinator dependent mono crops, the pollen diversity in many cases is not available. Then, of course, the nutrition inherent in mixed pollen sources is missing. To fill this gap there are a variety of substitute “pollen” products offered on the market or the beekeeper can make his/her own. The problem with these is that first and most importantly, none of these is nutritionally complete. They can help in some regard, but at some point without a mixed pollen source available, the bees have to eat more of it to get the required amino acids and/or draw upon internal tissue resources and cannibalize themselves in some cases. Brood rearing stops and the colony will actually eat developing larvae and pupae. Many of these substitute diets are placed in a colony, but rather than being consumed, they are dragged out as trash. This makes sense because bulk food is not found in a bee hive in a ¼ pound patty and is not recognized as food, but as debris to be removed.
Why a nutritionally complete substitute diet has never been developed is a question beekeepers often ask. Honey bees can forage efficiently in about a 2 mile radius of their colonies. And for some exceptional resources they will travel much farther. When food forager “Scouts” leave the colony they find/discover pollen, nectar and water sources. They will take samples and bring those samples back to the colony and share them with their sisters. There can be dozens of these independent scouts doing this. These samples have an odor, and taste signature. They are sales people at this point of sharing these samples within the colony, trying to advertise that they have found something that smells, and tastes like the sample. They also communicate that “if you fly out in X direction for X period of time, you will find the source because it smells and tastes like the sample I just gave you.”
Honey bees cannot direct their sisters to go out and find a water source if it does not have an odor or taste. There have been trials done using purified distilled water and it is meaningless to honey bees because they can’t taste or smell it. It is kind of like you when you have a cold and your smell and taste shuts down and food is not appealing. Water that has a smell and taste, whether it is a puddle in a cattle feed lot, leaky drip chemigation or your swimming pool, is lots easier to collect and share as an identifiable water source. Make sense? But data shows that what we would call icky water does not contain or harbor honey bee pathogens to any great extent.
Q Suicidal Bees
Thank you so much for doing the “Classroom” in the American Bee Journal. My daughter and I have been keeping bees for two years now, and it has helped us answer a lot of questions that beginners have. We live in southwest Michigan. We had 5 weeks of very warm temperatures in December and January. Then, that was followed by three weeks of severe Arctic cold. The weather just broke yesterday and we have had highs in the 40’s the last two days. We have about 18 inches of snow on the ground right now, but it is beginning to melt.
This is my question: We have 6 hives we are wintering over. All of them were strong this fall and we left plenty of honey on them. They were very active during the warm spell in December and January. About a week and a half into the deep freeze, we had a sunny day. The temperature was only 14 degrees, but for some reason the bees thought it was warm enough to fly. One hive had hundreds of dead bees lying outside in a strip, where they had tried to get back, froze and dropped where they were. The last two days they have also tried to fly. Some make it back in, but lots of them are dying in a heap by the entrance. Is there something we can do, or do you think they have enough bees to spare right now? Only one hive is this active, but it has the most sun exposure. The others have some activity, but there are only a few dead bees, not heaps of them! We don’t know if they started rearing brood during the warm spell, or not. We haven’t looked inside because it has been so cold.
Thanks for your help,
Caroline, thank you for the Classroom compliment. All I do is answer the excellent questions from beekeepers like you. Going down memory lane, I lived in Wayland, MI (South of Grand Rapids) years ago and I still have memories of the long winters and beautiful summers with honey bees. Big strong colonies get faked out sometimes by the bright sunshine reflected off snow. Honey Bees see UV and when sunlight is reflected off the snow the UV signature is very distinct. It confuses them in relation to the sun and instead of flying up they actually fly down and crash into the snow where they chill even more and die.
Honey bee colonies that have been confined and may have Nosema or tracheal mites will also fly out whenever it looks okay to get out of the colony. Ultimately the only way you will know if the colonies have made it through winter is when you will be able to do a lid opening check. Dead honey bees against the white snow always look worse than many times it is. Let’s cross our fingers and be optimistic that your mite treatments in late summer were effective and the honey supply was sufficient and of a good quality.
Cold doesn’t necessarily kill honey bees. It is everything else that is added such as pests, predators and disease that actually does them in. Let me know how they look when you can say they have actually turned the corner in March or April.
Q The Old Switcheroo
I’m a first-year beekeeper with three new hives started from package bees at the beginning of April 2012. Each hive now has two deep hive bodies for brood chambers and one super, although the honey flow ended before any of the hives were able to draw out much comb in the super. Right now the supers are mostly empty, but I’m keeping them on just in case the bees find the means to draw the foundation out. The problem is, as a 5’5” woman, I’m already finding that the weight of full deeps is more than I can easily handle when inspecting the hives, even though I’m just using nine frames per box. I understand that many beekeepers use only medium supers for brood, honey storage, and overwintering, and that’s the approach I’d like to take in future. I wish I had started out only using medium supers for brood chambers, but here I am with all my brood in deep frames.
My question is: When is the best time, and what is the best method to switch a hive from deeps to medium-sized brood boxes? I don’t have much in the way of drawn comb on super frames, so I’m afraid it will be essentially like starting from scratch. What do you recommend?
Hello Rebecca, deeps are much better for brood chambers, especially in winter temperatures. Honey bee colonies are much better able to form clusters that are more successful in maintaining stable temperatures on a deep brood frame rather than a series of smaller frames with gaps that exist between these multiple supers. This is not to say that colonies cannot overwinter successfully in a series of mediums, but it is more disruptive to the continuity of a cluster. Mediums work much better further south of you in the lower southeast where winters are more consistently moderate.
What do you think about leaving the bottom deep on? You should not have to pick it up to inspect as only frames will be removed and moved around. And then, use a couple mediums on top of that for the next segment of the “brood chamber”. The other deeps you have can be used for the bottom brood chamber on subsequent colonies or traded to other beekeepers in your local beekeeper association for mediums. You and your colony have made great progress and you may not want to totally abandon using deeps.
The main problem with my suggestion is “spring reversal”. If you reverse your hive bodies in the spring, that will defeat my suggested strategy to reduce your heavy lifting. Still another possibility would be switching to eight-frame equipment. That would eliminate some of the weight of brood chambers, but would also require scrapping or selling all of your existing 10-frame equipment.
Spring would be the best time to make the change you note. Your goal right now is to get your colonies through the winter. Nothing is ergonomic on a bee hive, which makes it worse. Let me know what you think.
Q Sugar, corn syrup and Fondant?
Hello, just a quick question for you. I just mixed 25 lbs. of sugar with 8 lbs. of corn syrup and it makes a nice patty, so why do people go to the bother of getting fondant? Is fondant better for the bees?
Bradlyn, let me get on my “soap box” for a minute. There are lots of legitimate reasons to feed honey bees supplemental carbohydrates like sugar syrup, HFCS, fondant blends, sugar blends, etc. Some of these reasons include avoiding colony starvation, early spring stimulation, queen rearing, and making splits and nucs. However, there are also lots of reasons not to feed. Honey bees have evolved over millions of years to be able to gather, add enzymes, evaporate excess moisture and prepare for long-term storage a diverse and ever changing supply of the mixed sugar liquid (nectar) produced by flowering plants.
They can eat and use other sugars, as supplied by the beekeeper, at some metabolic cost to be able to digest and convert it to a usable source of energy for them. It is kind of like you and I--we can digest and gain lots of energy and nutrition from sweet fruits and we can also get them from a Hershey bar? However, there is some cost to us in digestion and vitamin usage to convert it to a usable form before, during and after that first bite.
As I step off my “soap box”, I hope you have considered why you are feeding your colony. Is it a last-gasp survival situation because you as the honey bee manager did not assess stored honey, or do you have needy bees that have consumed everything they may have stored and are depending on you to keep them alive because their genetics are faulty? Is it any of the other reasons listed above?
You may be feeding them because everyone says you need to or it makes you feel better when you do, even though they may not need it. If so, then you could be just wasting your time and resources and giving the colony food that is incomplete. You are the manager, so if the colony needs this supplement, it really doesn’t make a whole lot of difference in what form it takes as long as it is available to the colony, regardless of temperature, and does not drip, run or melt all over them.
Has anyone ever heard of this stuff from red wine? It is called resveratrol and is supposed to be good for people? Will it help honey bees, too?
Resveratrol has been in the news for several years in relation to its possible human health benefits. Not only red wine, Darren, but lots of other plants as well have this substance. It is a plant-produced “phenol” for protection from damage caused by pathogens and fungi that attack plants. The most data has come from Japanese researchers who found resveratrol mostly in the roots of Japanese Knotweed. The claims are that it is anti-aging and anti-cancer and lowers blood sugar in humans. However, so far nothing amazing has been found in trials that helped nematodes, fish, mice or humans.
In an article from the July 2012 Journal of Aging it was reported that resveratrol, when fed to honey bees, “reduced food intake”. The article noted a couple of times that it inhibited food consumption in honey bees for both carbs and protein. That sure doesn’t sound like a great selling point for a short-lived summer honey bee and even worse for a long-lived winter honey bee directly. To think that the younger “nurse bees” need lots of protein and energy in the form of pollen and sugar in order to produce high protein, calorie dense larval food and that resveratrol slows food consumption, then it doesn’t make a lot of practical sense to provide this supplement to honey bees. So, at this moment in time, I think what is known is not enough for a beekeeper to rush out and use resveratrol as a honey bee food supplement.
An opinion is like a nose everybody has one, and that is mine.
Q Movin' on...Maybe
Jerry, I’m still keeping bees here in the north, but am looking to move to the south. I was wondering what input you might have on looking for a good place for bees? I used to go to Zephyrhills, Florida, but I’m looking for a place more rural. I was thinking about northern Florida, maybe up around an area that has a lot of TUPELO trees. I’m also concerned about the Africanized honey bees (AHB), and was wondering how the AHB were doing in population in the Florida area?
No rush, still need to sell here, but if you have some input as to a good area, please let me know. I also need to work at something, plus the bees, so thank you for your time.
George J. Parker, Jr.
Hello George, as you probably know, keeping honey bees in Florida is or can be a bit more challenging than one would think. Many times there are lots of things blooming, but never really enough to keep a lot of colonies in full foraging mode. There are some “flushes” of flowering plants in spring in North Florida and it can be great, but then it is over with. Not much in between and lots of feeding may be necessary, especially in summer.
Tupelo makes a great varietal honey and fetches a hefty price in the marketplace, but with the catch that there is a limited supply and scarcity. Tupelo areas in North Florida are already taken by other large beekeepers. They can be a bit territorial to put it mildly. This is a competitive situation and the beekeepers in the “Tupelo Fraternity” know each other and have hand-shake agreements. If someone arbitrarily moves into “claimed” areas, they may be asked to leave. Be careful. I would contact the North Florida Apiary Inspector first to run this idea by him.
Q After Swarms
Jerry, the Chicago Way is “Vote early, vote often”. With the record warm March in 2012 we had here in northern Illinois, my backyard colonies decided to “swarm early, swarm often”-- swarms and after-swarms. I hived one after-swarm and have a couple of questions:
1. Am I correct that the virgin queen in the after-swarm must now go on her mating flight, delaying brood rearing past what would be expected from a prime swarm? How long might it be until she lays her first eggs?
2. I have read that there are sometimes more than one virgin in an after-swarm. What happens in this situation? Mate first and fight later? Fight first and mate later? Some other process?
Thank you for your help. Your answer will provide some insights for this simple beekeeper and maybe to some others as well.
Weird weather has impacted swarming for sure and caused an early expansion of varroa mites, which also could have an impact later.
1) Yes, many after swarms do have a virgin or virgins in them. The normal pattern of the mated queen leaving with a swarm has been short-circuited, so the future of this potentially new colony is not really known. Hoped for but not known. She can be laying 7-14 days after a number of mating flights are completed. Even in a perfect world, in which you caught the swarm and placed it in a hive with drawn comb, she still has to go out mate and return successfully from the cold cruel world of birds, thunderstorms, car windshields, chemicals and sterile drones, etc. It isn’t as easy as it looks.
2) Virgin queens do not really have a fertile honey bee queen odor (pheromone signature), so do not recognize each other easily as potential rivals like they would in a functioning colony with queen cells. When they are mated, that is when they become fertile queens that have a genetic desire to lead a colony. This is when the competitive nature shows itself and they will fight for supremacy. And, I always thought it interesting that, depending which queen was able to deliver the lucky sting first, that it doesn’t mean the biggest, nicest, most fully mated queen will win one of these duels. It could be the scrawny, half mated queen with 5 legs that gets the lucky kill shot. That is why controlling this whole queen introduction process as much as possible to get the “best” queen is a good thing.
Which treatment is best to prevent American foulbrood (AFB)? Is Tylan Best? Mixing Tylan properly, because it is so concentrated, is beyond the scope of most of us. As a result of this, there are indications that there is Tylan-AFB resistance beginning.
First, I need to ask my perennial question, “Do you have AFB to treat?” Antibiotics do not eliminate AFB. AFB is caused by spore-forming bacteria. Spores are like seeds, long lived, hard, and can survive as a stored embryo until they germinate. When AFB is exposed to antibiotics, some of the vegetative state is killed and some form spores in response to this threat. If you don’t have AFB, what are you treating? Are you personally taking antibiotics now because you are afraid of getting Strep throat next week? Prophylactic AFB treatment is of dubious worth.
If you are treating an active case of AFB (and your state apiary laws allow this), then Terramycin still works in many areas. However, if you see that your bees are not responding to the Terramycin treatment, then you will need to switch to Tylan. Yes, mixing Tylan is tough, but can be done with a little patience. Call your supplier for help if necessary.
RESPONSE FROM DOUG
Thank you for your savvy advice and very timely admonition. Ever since I got wiped out three years ago (cause never determined?), I have been paranoid about AFB. I had to destroy nearly my entire apiary (just 6 colonies at the time). Most likely, it was a combination of sloppy beekeeping on my part and my bees robbing a very SICK beeyard one mile away!
Q Be Wary
Hi Mr. Hayes, I’m looking at getting hives called Warre’ Hives.
Mark, if you are asking my opinion, I would ask, “Are you sure you want all of the management problems that come with Warre’ hives?” They are top-bar hives that allow the bees to build free-form comb in the square boxes. This, in turn, means the bees attach the comb to sides, bottoms, tops, etc., so that the beekeeper has to cut the comb to manipulate the comb around for management inspections, harvesting, treatments, etc. Are you sure you want to go back in history to a more primitive form of beekeeping? Movable frame hives, invented over 150 years ago, were the best thing that ever happened to beekeeping and allowed it to be enjoyed by many who could not previously. It is your call, but I think you will find Warre’ hives to be a pain.
The Classroom February 2013
by Jerry Hayes
Q Friendly Bees Again
In the December ABJ Jim and Linda Lathrop wrote in to ask why they have many of their honey bees being attracted to them while outside. They were described as not aggressive, but friendly “I want to be with you” attracted. I asked Classroom readers for some help on this one and got lots of replies. Here are a few of them.
I have a possible explanation for the Lathrop's "friendly bees". Sounds like these bees are in a dearth if they are fed 4# of sugar a day as syrup with warmer temperatures and no honey crop. Initially, they were fed syrup with Honey B Healthy, which was later discontinued per Linda's follow-up letter. It is likely that the feeding stimulant scent is the culprit for their behavior. I had a similar experience a couple years ago when I attempted to attract bees to a barrel of syrup. The bees had been foraging at a neighboring vineyardist's grape press where a worker was stung. To rapidly redirect the foragers, I tried barrel feeding sucrose syrup with added Honey B Healthy about 1/8th mile from the 24 colony apiary. I received a call later that day by a panicked property owner where my bees were located. She reported that my bees were swarming over her clothes line. On arriving to appraise the situation, I found bees throughout her open garage where laundry had been washed and also clustered densely on the clothes which were drying behind the house. I moved the apiary that night, resolving the problem.
It is likely that the Lathrop's are using a scented detergent, which is attracting bees to them while not to others on the premises. I am uncertain of the source of the mimic scent at the porch, but possibilities include a dryer vent discharging nearby, or spilled Honey B Healthy or laundry detergent. As the hives contain essential oil scented sugar syrup, the nectar-searching behavior for this scent may persist despite discontinuing further feedings. I suspect that the perfect combination of dearth, feeding stimulant, and scented fabric (or scented people) has occurred this year leading to this new bee behavior.
Mr. Jerry Hayes
Just a comment: Jerry in answer to Linda and Jim's friendly Bees, Rose and I have experienced something similar to friendly bees, but only a handful while sitting on the deck porch. While either sipping tea or maybe ice cream, but relaxing in the evening, bees will come around flying gently landing on our arms or hands. I have had them crawl between my fingers and palms and sucking on my hands to the point that you could feel the pressure of their tongue pulling on your skin. It was a strange experience and I wondered myself what is going on? My thought is that when we eat or drink something in the evening, that maybe the scent is still there from food or drinks in that area. So, the bees are coming around investigating, through curiosity of a strange scent in that area. So the bees pay us a visit. I don't know the answer either? But, I wanted to let Linda and Jim know that they are not alone with this strange experience. I got to where I was talking to them. Rose offered them some tea with sugar, but they were not interested. I could only come up with that they are picking up a scent of food and drinks and come to visit with curiosity. What do you think, Jerry?
I just finished reading "Friendly Bees?" in the Classroom section of the December 2012 issue of the American Bee Journal. The puzzle as to why Linda and Jim Lathrop's bees were so attracted to them intrigued me. It is as if their bees were responding to a queen's pheromone. The queen's pheromone, or queen's substance 90xo2Decenoic Acid (9 ODA), 9Hydroxy2Decenoic Acid (9 HDA), and 10Hydroxy2Decenoic Acid (10 HDA) was possibly on Linda, and Jim?
I did some research on line, and discovered the following: According to the "Alba Herbal" web site, 10Hydroxy2Decenoic Acid (10 HDA) is in royal jelly. It is added to cosmetics, skin care products, and health food as an active ingredient for its antibacterial effect, skin whitening, and antioxidative activity effect.
Could the Lathrops have been using a product that contains 10HDA?
Your column makes me always open the journal right after it arrives. It is a first thing I go to. I'm in my 2nd year of keeping 3 hives, not easy, lost 1 hive 1st year and just lost another hive, probably too much varroa, but 2 others going strong and I'm spinning honey this weekend. Not much, but it's a nice bonus.
Anyway, I don't want to claim that I know I have an answer to Linda's and Jim's bee's socializing behavior, but as a physician specializing in using vitamins and minerals to treat many conditions, I have an idea. I would start by asking if: A) They take any supplements, specifically B complex vitamins or any herbals; B) do they eat any plant based foods/herbs in large amounts regularly; C) I think they said that they tried to see if the soaps they are using were responsible, but of course there could be a number of other "aromas" they may be using without realizing it.
Where am I going with A and B? Here are few examples that will help to illustrate: 1) high dose Thiamine (vitamin B1 at least 100mg) taken orally by some people will induce skin to eliminate some of the excess of this vitamin. There are claims that this may repel mosquitoes (although there is no study to support this). 2) Some herbs consumed by humans produce specific aromatic oils that are excreted through skin.
I would need to do research if Linda and Jim indeed consume some natural product or a dietary herb to figure out the specific chemical reaction that is causing this interesting situation. I would be actually rather interested in contacting them directly to figure this out for myself. This may actually be a positive incidental finding that can be utilized for an advantage on less friendly colonies if this "aroma" will make bees "like" beekeepers.
Whatever the reason is, I'm completely in agreement with your closing statement that it must be some pheromone or semiochemical odor that is responsible for this.
Sincerely and thank you again for your wonderful column, a true inspiration for me as a starting beekeeper.
Misha Mikhail Kogan, MD
Q Porcelain Berry Vine
I have a Porcelain Berry Vine, Elegans variety. The honey bees seem to really love it. Once it starts blooming, even though the blooms are very small, the honey bees are all over it. I can't find anything on the internet regarding honey bees and this plant. Do you happen to know if this is a good plant for nectar or pollen?
Thank you for your time and for the great articles "The Classroom".
First, thank you for the compliment on the Classroom. It is fun when all of us are learning together.
Honey bees are attracted to flowers for several different reasons. The typical way is honey bee scouts have found a plant that has needed pollen or nectar that has a high concentration of sugar. There is another reason in that some flowering plants attract honey bees or other pollinators and produce a highly attractive odor that promises this, but doesn’t provide it. It is interesting how plants and animals use, attract, coerce and downright simply trick pollinators to visit the flower for pollination many times. Flowers produce nectar as an offering or bribe to get an insect, bird, mammal/marsupial, etc. to visit them and take the male element “pollen” as a side effort from one flower part to another flower part, so pollination can take place and hopefully fertilization of a seed.
Producing nectar is a resource-intensive process, but a valuable one if fertilization takes place and you can now spread your plant genetics around and survive. Another way for a plant to attract native pollinators is to produce a scent, odor, perfume if you will that is highly suggestive to honey bee foragers or scouts of other plants that produce high quality nectar. The deal is that these plants only produce the odor; they do not produce the high quality nectar. They attract lots of “bees”. The bees seemingly go crazy over the flowers and the plant gets free pollination and the bees get nothing. The old bait and switch--only plants invented it!
I am not aware of any information of the type, quality, or sugar concentration of Porcelain Berry Vine nectar or if it has any at all or what nutritional value the pollen may have. I do know honey bees are attracted, but for what reason is the question.
Q Honey and Allergies Revisited
Well, here we go again on subject of honey and allergies. It's a little hard to determine whether this is fuzzy logic. Could you give me your opinion? When customers approach me about allergies, I have always told them that they being most likely allergic to windblown pollen, it is unlikely those grains will end up in honey since grains have such a strong cuticle that the bees cannot break it, so it goes right into their digestive tract. I also say that the overwhelming numbers of customers are using local pollen for allergies, but I point out that all the medical evidence "suggests" that1 tsp. or tsbp. honey per day has significant health benefits, so it may be that eating honey, any honey, may improve the immune system so they are better able to ward off allergic response...
Do you have a better rationale for eating the local honey (that's what they want, so who am I to discourage them)?
Well, this is the way in understand it. You are right in that 99.9% of allergies are from plants that have never wanted a relationship with insects or the energy cost to produce nectar to lure in insects. They have ‘chosen’ to put all their energy in to making gazillions of pollen grains in the hopes that the wind will deliver the male pollen to the right place at the right time on another flower of the same species. What the actual cost benefit analysis of producing nectar is to lure in pollinating insects or making gazillions of big windblown pollen grains (think most all grasses, corn and Pine Trees, etc.,) is I sure don’t know.
It is the surface proteins on the pollen that make it into your nose and sinuses that one breathes in that your body recognizes as ‘foreign proteins’ and mobilizes all sorts of chemicals called histamines that try to protect your body from this foreign invader. Your body kind of over does it and you get all the symptoms of runny nose, red eyes, sneezing etc. that your body uses to get rid of this stuff. That is why we take antihistamines to counteract the histamines that your body goes way overboard on.
There is some pollen in honey that has similar surface coat proteins, but because it is designed to be sticky and have itself adhere to a honey bee and not float around in the air, it does not get up your nose. Instead, in very small amounts, it gets into your digestive tract after eating the honey, where it is found in small amounts, the possible reactions are much reduced--not eliminated, but reduced. It is a gamble if eating honey with the minute different kind of sticky insect-delivered pollen found in honey has any real benefit to warding off reactions compared to big balloon-like windblown pollen in huge amounts found in your respiratory tract. But, many folks swear it does and so it could be a placebo effect or it could work in some cases. Either way, honey sales go up.
Q Raw is Raw is Raw
Thanks for the Classroom and taking the time to answer so many questions. I was wondering at what temperature can you heat your honey and still call it raw? It seems to me that everyone has their own opinion. I heat my crystallized honey to about 120 degrees so I can bottle it and not scoop it. Is this too high? I just want to make sure it’s raw.
Thanks for your time,
Let me put in a plug for finely crystallized honey as the final consumer end product. Done right, finely crystallized honey, sometimes called "creamed" honey, is smooth and creamy, retaining all the flavor and essence of freshly capped honey and is easy to spread and use. In fact, most of the world uses "creamed" honey because of its flavor, mouth feel, and ease of use as it doesn't drip or run. That is my sales pitch:)
Temperature around the brood nest is about 92F to 94F. Remember that honey is full of the odors of the nectar it is made from and those other volatiles that give it taste and flavor. When you expose honey to the air, these evaporate. When you expose honey to the air and add heat, it happens more quickly and thoroughly. That is why the honeys in the Big Box Grocery kind of all taste the same, which is kind of bland and more bland.
So, is 120F too high? To stop granulation it is fine. To produce REAL, flavorful honey it is too high. But, it is all a tradeoff. “Raw” unheated honey makes the best creamed honey. Just do it.
This is my first experience using Apiguard Foil Pack on my hive to control varroa mites. I am now in the 14-day waiting period before the next dose. I have observed in the morning the bees leaving a white larvae and even white skeletons of bees on the entrance. Should I be concerned? Can you tell me what they are doing?
At this time of the year, it is hard to tell Jerry. If you are in a region where 'winter' is moderate to severe and flower resources are diminishing or gone and the colony does not have or want to devote the resources to feeding larvae and pupae, they are dragging some out to lower this threshold of nutrition. I doubt that in a strong two-brood nest colony that the Apiguard is causing this. Apiguard will encourage honey bees to become more hygienic and remove more marginal colony members. My guess is that the bees are simply removing extraneous larvae and others that are not needed such as drone larvae and pupae because of nutrition or lack thereof rather than damage caused by Apiguard. Apiguard is a good product.
Q Luke... I Am Your Father.....
Jerry, I have been watching you now closely over the past year since your switch, transition, or whatever it is called to Monsanto. As a former “corporate” minion I wanted to check in with you to see how it is going. How have you adjusted to the soul-sucking time on the corporate hamster wheel? And how is the corporate chess game played during mind-numbing meetings? Have you really gone over to the Dark Side?
Thanks for the gut check. Has it been easy or even a little fun going from a close connection with beekeepers and the beekeeping world to a big corporation and having less day-to-day direct involvement with beekeepers? No, it hasn’t. So, the real question is why I am sticking it out as the only honey bee guy at Monsanto.
Here is a list:
1. Potential. We are still talking about finding a safe non-chemical varroa control going on 30 years after the first finds. There is the strong possibility that a discovery can be made using a non-chemical, non-GM, non-honey bee toxic varroa control. Imagine not having to put pesticides into a honey bee colony to control varroa, which causes probably 70-80% of total honey bee health problems.
2. Potential. Control the virus part of the varroa/virus complex that can’t even be addressed. Control safely, non-toxically the several honey bee viruses that varroa vectors and causes to replicate.
3. Some very nice, smart, energetic Monsanto team mates give me great confidence that 1 and 2 will be successful. There you go. I need your support, too.
Q Bee Stings
Every so often I get stung when I am inspecting my bees. I am not allergic to bee stings and normally when I get stung, I just scrape the sting off and in a few minutes the sting has gone. However, once in a while a bee will sting and by the time I have scraped the sting off, I continue to feel the sting because of the itching and then having the area starting to swell a little the next day. I am wondering if the reason for this would be that certain bees have a much more potent sting than others. It would be interesting to know.
What is your thought on this?
I am not a Medical Doctor nor have I ever played one on TV. But, the toxin components, the proteins that make the venom toxin, can change slightly over time as the young honey bee matures. So, it is somewhat age dependent and can be seasonal as well. When you get stung, the venom composition is always similar, but slightly different based on if it is a newly emerged honey bee or an old seasoned veteran guard bee and your body reaction is thus variable, as it recognizes these variable foreign protein invaders. And then, of course, your body is always in flux and changing as well, naturally and in response to medications, especially, that you are taking. Many over-the-counter pain relievers called NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) like Motrin, Advil, Nuprin, even aspirin, can make you more sensitive to “bee stings”. An explanation is never cut and dried or just one factor and so it causes one to pause and look at the bigger picture, which makes things even more interesting.
Q Powdered Sugar for Varroa Control
It's been a long time since I last wrote to you. But that doesn't mean that I haven't been reading your column. We beekeepers need you for a fast and assured way to get answers to our questions.
My question is about the use of powdered sugar for varroa control. Sneaking a peep between the frames after dusting, I noticed that the lips of the open cells catch some of that sugar. What will the bees do with that sugar? Will they eat it? Will they store it in the honey? If the sugar falls in the brood cells, how will this affect the young larvae?
Thank you for your patience,
Thank you for the compliment, Sam. Powdered sugar is the only varroa control that the “bees” can eat. Good feature. The only negative effect it would have is if it actually coated the larva or uncapped pupae. This rarely happens and as such is an effective mechanical varroa control. It is certainly labor intensive if you have lots of colonies, but does not introduce pesticides into a honey bee colony and is very innocuous.
Q Winter Feeding?
I am feeding a hive of bees 2 parts sugar to 1 part water and pollen substitute to build them up right now as winter feed. I got a swarm of bees about the first of September. They had built comb up under the eaves of a building; it was about the size of a basketball, not a big swarm. I hived them into two medium boxes. Should I be feeding them liquid feed or should I feed them candy for the winter? We live in Oregon
Free Bees are always an enticement to beekeepers. There is a very old saying, “A swarm in May is worth a load of hay, a swarm in June is worth a silver spoon, a swarm in July isn’t worth a fly.” You get the gist of it. Hiving a Sept. feral colony is an experiment for sure and I guess that you will find out what you have in the spring. I think the requirements for maintaining a honey bee colony don’t change i.e. 50 + lbs of honey or sugar carbs, sufficient beebread, few Varroa, no bacterial diseases, and lots of good comb ready for the queen to use, etc.
I do not know where in Oregon you are and the winter could be semi-mild or really cold, snowy and long. Let me know how your experiment goes. Right now you have invested in welfare bees and they could pay off with returns later this year with lots of honey and swarm again in Sept. or die before this happens. This is part of the fun of beekeeping if you have the time and resources and are interested in how Darwin came up with his “Survival of the Fittest” theory.
The Classroom January 2013
by Jerry Hayes
Q Vanishing Act
Something very strange has happened. I have 5 hives in my backyard in Idaho. All 5 were very successful this year, gave me plenty of surplus and upon inspection looked healthy. I have been giving them sugar water for the last couple of weeks getting them ready for winter. We will call hive #1 my problem hive. All of them have been taking the sugar water and emptying it on a daily basis using the Boardman feeder with quarts.
Hive #1 - I last checked it about 4 weeks ago and it looked very active. It had several frames of capped honey and sugar water and a good brood pattern down below. Today I came home and it looked deserted at the front entrance. When I opened it up, it’s about 65 degrees here right now, it was completely empty. I mean empty, no dead bees, no live bees, no bees. It still had several frames of capped honey, some older capped brood (some spotty), some in a good pattern, but no bigger than a fist. There are very few, if any, dead bees in front of the hive. I always look at the front of my hives during the season to see how my population is doing. I opened each of the other hives and they are all doing well right now.
What the heck happened?
Good Morning Mark. If there were no adults and no queen left and a little brood, but not much, the colony may have “absconded”—meaning for some reason they collectively decided things were getting stressful for them such as the seasonal change to winter and they simply all left to find a better place. Little did they know they were in a place where escape is not possible. This is typical African Bee behavior. You can have African genetic introgression and not have the defensive aggressive behavior. Where did your queens come from?
Q Mark Has Another Question
Is it possible that it could be CCD? Everything that I have been reading about Idaho bees is that there is no sign of African bees, yet?
The queen and a few hundred workers with lots of brood and honey are normally left behind in CCD. You don’t have to have a natural expansion of African honey bees (AHB) into Idaho to have AHB. Anybody who buys queens from Texas, Arizona, Southern California, New Mexico, and Southern Nevada may have AHB genetics. So, if you or anybody within 10 miles of you has purchased queens from AHB areas, the probability is extremely high that AHB with a swipe of a credit card are in Idaho....or any other state.
Q Chilly Reception
Thanks to a tenant farmer at one of my bee yards, I now have lost three bee hives due to his activity. I need to know just what to do to clean up the frames that now have wax moth larvae so that I can re-use them in the spring. I have heard that if you put them in a freezer that this will kill all wax moth stages? I use Pierco coated frames in all my hives very successfully.
J. Neil Thompson
Certainly, freezing the rascals would be an excellent option to do the job. Depending on the degree of damage they have done to the comb proper, they may be killed in the freezer and the frame/comb can be used again for the bees to do the minor repairs. If more extensive damage occurred, the hard plastic foundation with the imprint of the cell as a guide can be re-coated with melted beeswax and can be re-used successfully again. (Be extremely careful melting beeswax as it is flammable if too hot.)
Q Genetic Diversity
I wonder why worker bees are described as being genetically identical “sisters”. If the queen bee mates with multiple drones, wouldn’t they be half sisters, so to speak? Different fathers would mean different genetic makeup, seems to me . . . just curious.
You are absolutely right. And these genetic sub families also seem to join together in those opportunities to raise supersedure or swarm queens. There is a bit of competition when queens “need” to be raised between and among these sub families. One family of sisters can recognize the larvae of their family and also what is not in their direct family. So, they select larvae from their family, Queen /Drone combination, which they can then feed and promote as one of the new virgins that may become the new queen. Makes sense to support your genetics. And then all the other sub families are doing the same thing to see whose genetics will ultimately dominate by way of a fertile female . . . the queen. So, when you see lots of queen cells in a colony, remember that they can be from several different sub-families as a selection process to let the strong survive. Great question.
Q How Do You Feed a Queen?
I have some questions: How does the queen eat; what does she eat; do the bees feed her sugar syrup when bees are fed sugar syrup? I would appreciate your help here. My understanding is that, yes, she is fed and groomed daily, but who feeds her, the nurse bees?
That is an excellent question and I thought I knew the answer. The answer I had been taught was that “nurse bees” feed the queen. OK, sounds good, but then I thought as you did, what do they actually feed her? I can’t find an answer that I am happy with? I have found some citations from 40 years ago that say, “Adult queens are fed mostly brood food, possibly with some additional honey.” That seems too sketchy. Does the ‘brood food’ have enough protein in it to support the maturation of the 2000 eggs per day that a queen may lay in the height of spring/summer? Does the queen have to draw upon protein from her internal organs to meet this demand? What if the nurse bees are feeding on a nutritionally incomplete diet of some kind of commercial pollen substitute, which, of course, determines what food they can provide from their brood food glands (hypopharyngeal glands)? I am asking others this question Chandra to see if we can get a better answer. Until then, it looks like “brood food and honey”.
Jerry, this past Sunday we harvested honey from one of our hives in the backyard. When we went into the hive, we pulled four frames and left four in the hive. The small frames were nice and full and the honey is great, not too sweet with a "woodsy" flavor. However, when we picked up two of the frames, we saw on each one, a single small hive beetle (SHB) running around trying to hide. I've read numerous articles about setting traps down in the bottom of the hive and watching for slime if the population of the beetles becomes rampant. Also, I have heard that with a beetle infestation, they can cause the honey to ferment.
Since we have the calmer North American bees (not Africans), they seem to coexist with as opposed to eliminating the beetles. I’ve read that the beetles can burrow into the soil beneath the hives where the larvae hatch, especially if the soil is soft. Being in Dallas, TX, our soil is hard clay, but we had put mulch around the fenced off area trying to keep the St. Augustine grass and ivy, etc. from growing into the area. I wonder if it would help if I scraped away all the mulch and possibly put small pebbles or rocks on top of the soil or even tried to just have bare soil, but try and keep as dry as possible? Is it a major warning sign that we saw two beetles or should we not be too concerned at this point about visually seeing two beetles in the hive?
Hey Fred, seeing two small hive beetles (SHB) is not terrible or unusual, especially in Texas. I would have expected you to see more and there may, in fact, be more that have moved in during this email. SHB are looking for a location to raise baby SHB in. A colony of weak, disorganized honey bees with exposed honey is a lure. Having a big colony with a bee on every inch of comb that can protect and police the hive and comb is optimal. Less than that and it is an opening for SHB to take advantage of unprotected honey, beebread and brood as a protein source for developing honey bee larvae. Once started and you see slime and SHB larvae, it is way past the point of no return with thousands of larvae. Ground treatments are basically worthless because the damage has already been done. And, as SHB larvae leave the colony and drop to the ground, they do not necessarily burrow into the ground in or around the colony as they can crawl 100-200 yards to find a good place to pupate. You need to prevent the beetle infestation from getting to this advanced stage. SHB traps are good; healthy colonies with bees on every inch of comb are good. If you don't have this, take some boxes off and crowd the bees down. Take extra frames of honey and freeze them or extract them. And, then keep your eyes open and keep checking. Hang in there!
Q Autumn Quandry
I’m in a quandary as what to do: A small swarm landed in our back yard two days ago. I boxed it up into a hive that has a few top bar frames that are drawn out. These are in a Langstroth hive, so I put the swarm in it and added some Dadant frames with foundation to make 10 frames. I sprayed all of the frames with some sugar water mixed with Honey B Healthy. I closed it up for a couple of days. I just looked in and they are all over the frames and I found the queen. Now, this is a very small swarm about the size of a cantaloupe. I added a Boardman feeder and closed up the entrance to a very small hole.
It is October and we are still having 80 degree weather, dropping to the low 50's high 40's at night. What do you suggest I do with this swarm? Is it worth saving? If so, how the heck do I do that? I do have 5 other hives in my back yard that are doing very well.
Mark, something like this is always interesting, but let me give you some facts to think about. Honey bees are, for the most part, temperate insects (not the African Bee) that their ancestors learned /developed/ turned genes on that allowed them to figure out how to asexually reproduce as early in spring as possible. This gives the reproductive swarm an opportunity to beat the odds and do all those things to build up into a colony with 50+ pounds of stored honey to make it through a long, hard dark European winter. That is why man developed a relationship with these insects that adapted to ‘winter’ and stored lots of food that we could take and eat without a whole lot of production and collection effort on our ancestors’ part.
So, a genetic system is put into place that selected for honey bees that could do this successfully and thereby successfully spread those genetics around. Fast forward to the relationship that developed over time with humans and the human desire to preserve all genetics, good or bad, because it seems like a good thing to do. Charles Darwin broke ground on some of this in “Origin of the Species” and in many cases survival of the fittest, meaning those that can’t adapt to environmental conditions die and remove those flawed genetics. We, humans, have short circuited this to some degree. Look at some of the breeds of chickens, cows, hogs and how about Turkeys that are so big they can’t mate naturally anymore so everything is by instrumental insemination . . . but I digress.
We as beekeepers now have accepted honey bees that cannot exist without our intervention. We treat for varroa or American foulbrood and we often feed them sugar to store, above and beyond the amount we take, to help them get through a real temperate winter, etc.
So, the real question is: Mark do you really want to keep a swarm that has decided to swarm at a season where, without your intervention, they would die and remove those flawed genetics. Or, are you willing to keep this swarm, cross your fingers that you can feed them all winter and wrap them to keep them warm enough and keep them alive, so that those genes, that supported swarming in October, can be passed on with any drones or queens that might result from your experiment?
The Classroom December 2012
by Jerry Hayes
As the holidays approach, it is time to reflect on what links us together as beekeepers — our honey bees. Honey bees are tough and fragile, wild and tolerant, social and independent. Does that sound familiar? It should because it is not unlike us. “We” were all part of the Creation Process, however you understand that to have happened. Take time to look around and blank out some of the white noise of your world and be grateful. Have an Attitude of Gratitude for this opportunity to know honey bees and each other. Then, step back and see how this will fit into your awareness for now and for the New Year just around the corner. Merry Christmas!
Q A Different Winter Hive Configuration?
In an effort to help the bees survive our winters here at the 38th parallel in NE Kansas, I'm thinking there might be some helpful things that could be done, and I'm wondering if you or any other beekeeper have considered them?
The current winter hive is two stacked boxes made of 3/4" thick planks for sides, an opening on the bottom in two planes at the entrance, the screen bottom and a small opening at the top. This keeps the bees out of the wind, and allows them to keep a bit of the heat they generate. The hole at the top moves the moisture they generate. My bet is more than a little of the heat goes out the top with the moisture. (This is the perfect 'solar' chimney, cool air in at the bottom, building heat exits out the top with the help of any wind).
While we think this is normal for our constructed hives, if we consider colonies out in the wild, we may see colonies in a better configuration for keeping wind out, heat in, and moving moisture. Imagine a large cavity in a dead tree with a fist size entrance hole, or, a cavity in a stud wall of a building. My guess is these protected wild colonies actually have better living conditions, and possibly better survival rates.
As a home builder and remodeler, keeping wind out and heat in has been fairly easy, using solid walls, operable openings and insulation. Moisture movement has, of course, produced a whole body of scientific research and information. For all those curious about moisture movement in your homes, and buildings, see Buildingscience.com. The Building Science engineers have identified four distinct heating, and cooling, regions in the US, each having their own distinct design responses, in relation to moisture as humidity and condensation.
Revisiting our manufactured hives, we know that we can't add doors and windows. There may, however, be a few easy things that could be done to improve the normal winter configuration.
To help the winter cluster be out of any direct heat robbing draft, could we remove the top inner that has the upper entrance? Generated heat will rise, but can't readily leave the box. Second, to keep cold winds from buffeting and cooling the air around the winter cluster, add another (empty?) hive body on the bottom; this puts the bees further from the cold and wind. I think the recently devised screen bottoms may adequately allow moisture build up inside to be diluted enough, so as not to be a hazard to the bees. Maybe studies have been done on this already. In lieu of a box on the bottom, I'm thinking that adding a short vertical baffle about 1 1/2" inside the bottom entrance might be helpful to reduce buffeting winds.
I like the idea of an insulation board on top, to help hold heat. What I'd rather see/have is a top feeder, with a center entrance, which would be right on top of the cluster, rather than entrances at the outer edges.
In all these considerations, when I say 'heat' I'm pretty sure none of these ideas are going to raise the interior temperature much. Ideally, the changes would keep colder, moving air out of the hives, allowing the temperature to maybe be more constant, at least around the bees, which, intuitively, seems better.
Well, you have been thinking, Kerry. This is always preferable to the opposite. Since you are more versed on all of this due to your building experience and practice, let me share some things I think I know about feral colonies nesting in cavities.
Years ago I read a research report that shared the following: In a study of feral honey bee colonies nesting in tree cavities, 80% were found to select a tree with an entrance and a cavity large enough (long enough) to allow this entrance to be above the brood nest with space below to act as a trash can for falling hive debris. This makes sense if the brood nest is to be more stable in relation to warmth and humidity. Excess warmth and humidity vents up the cavity and out the entrance/exit. Without a bottom entrance/opening, this upward ventilation is not as free flowing as in a honey bee colony with a bottom and a top entrance.
Our honey bee hives are designed by humans for humans--the bottom entrance/exit (door) a little landing pad (porch) and several vertical stories (rooms). Honey bees are the opossums of the insect world, tolerating lots of different possible living arrangements without complaint. What is the optimum honey bee living space? Maybe nothing is.
So, knowing how 80% of feral colonies of European genetically based honey bees select a home, now what do you do? It might lead to a hive we have now, only with a top entrance and a empty bottom brood box (no frames) to put distance between hive garbage and the colony. We are creatures of habit and someone would have to calculate the health advantage offered over what we have now in order to get attention and adoption.
Thanks so very much for hosting The Classroom! Getting to the point: When does the Small Hive Beetle (SHB) stop laying eggs or reproducing for the season? Is it temperature driven, like wax moths? If so, what temp do you think stops their laying? I understand from bee experts that SHB can/will overwinter with the bee cluster in a colony.
I live in Alabama, 14 miles from the Tennessee state line. I’ve kept bees for 5 years and I currently run 2 yards in north Alabama and 2 yards in southern Tennessee. I learned to keep bees when I lived in northern Virginia. I’ve said all that to illustrate that I am still very much a bee-ginner trying to get a clue on things like small hive beetles. Thanks for taking time out to answer.
P.S. You inspired me to keep bees, when I bought a copy of the March/April 2007 issue of Country Living magazine and read your article on packaged bees. I’ve been going full speed ever since. Keep on inspiring others!
Thanks for the compliment Keith and I am glad you have kept going since 2007. Like everything else in nature, very rarely is an end point influenced by just one thing or event. Remember that the SHB is a tropical/subtropical insect. As such, temperature outside the hive is really important because if the SHB larvae are successful inside the hive, they have to come outside to bury themselves in the ground and pupate. This is tough to do in Minnesota in some seasons, but maybe not so hard in Alabama and Tennessee where warmer weather is later and earlier. Generally, when temperatures get below 75-80 F outside, days are getting shorter and pollen-producing flowers have finished. Then, all of the cues that tell a fertile SHB female to lay eggs are also finished temporarily. And, yes, SHB are survivors and have been found within honey bee clusters in winter staying snug and warm until it is time for them to reproduce.
We are all bee-ginners Keith. Anyone who says in person or on the Web that they have all the answers and are experts should be eyed with suspicion. Honey bees are very humbling because they are so diverse and flexible and we cannot always anticipate how they will react to a situation every time.
The Classroom November 2012
by Jerry Hayes
Q Tricky Business
Though I’ve been keeping bees for years, it was only last year that I got really serious about mite control. I used the “powdered sugar” test and was both alarmed and relieved to finally understand why my bees didn’t produce more during heavy flows. I used Mite-away. All of my hives came through the winter fine.
This spring I requeened all 12 of my hives with queens from a very reputable supplier. About a month after re-queening I treated with Mite-away. I followed the instructions closely. These were all two brood-chamber hives with more than 8 frames of brood. I’d been feeding both syrup and pollen substitute and they were healthy and growing. I had checked to make sure all of the new queens were laying.
I put the two pads between the two chambers and added a small empty super on each to allow them to expand. I left the pads in place for 10 to 12 days. When I inspected them 3 weeks later, 5 of the hives had queen cells, which I removed. Over the next few months I had at least 3 additional hives that produced new queens from queen cells I apparently missed. As far as I know, none of these hives swarmed. They just replaced the queens. ( I know they were replaced because all of the queens I installed were marked).
I talked to the queen producer and he said he had a number of customers who experienced the same thing and all of them had used Mite-away. They blamed the Mite-away.
Here it is approaching fall and I have 3 splits that are strong enough to treat (all with new queens) and the sugar test shows 4 or 5 mites from ½ cup of bees, so I need to treat.
I had no trouble losing queens with the treatment I gave last year at this time of year, but I’m hesitant to lose these new queens. What should I do? Could I use just one pad to reduce impact?
Killing a little bug on a big bug is hard on both. There is no easy answer to varroa mite control and that is why we are still trying to figure this out 25 years or so after the varroa mite was found in the US. The biggest problem with varroa controls is what to use that kills, damages or otherwise slows down varroa and causes the least collateral damage to all stages of honey bees and their home ...beeswax comb. I commend you for using organic acids and surveying with powdered sugar. The organic acids can work well, but they are limited in use to a certain temperature and humidity range. Remember that these are ACIDs and are designed to chemically attack what they come in contact with. In this case it is to have the formic acid dissolve, damage, and otherwise eat up the exoskeleton of the varroa, its antenna, feet and other softer parts of its body. The honey bee queen is much bigger, the honey bee workers are much bigger, drones are much larger and more robust, but they still have softer parts of their exoskeleton that can be damaged by the "acid". Let’s say that one uses an organic acid for varroa control, according to label directions for X number of days. Honey bees communicate in various ways. One of the primary ways is with odors called pheromones that they "smell". Honey bees "smell" with their antennae. Hurt, damage or overwhelm the antennae with the strong odor of the acid and the colony can’t get colony updates of what is going on and many times they think they are queenless and that it is time to make queen cells. That is the tricky part of varroa control. Sometimes these things work and sometimes they don't. These acids always also hurt the "big bug", the honey bee. This is why we need a non-chemical control for varroa. Folks I know are working on it, even as I speak.
Q Rain, Rain
Jerry, what is the best time to find a swarm? Last year it rained all the time. People claimed to have bees swarming every day. How does rain play a part in swarming?
We are working with an insect, the European Honey Bee, that developed in a cold temperate region of the world. They are always preparing for winter, which if you are genetically programmed to survive a long cold northern European winter, takes time so you need to start these preparations as early in spring as possible. You also want to spread your genetics around as genetic insurance against your colony’s death by any number of environmental factors, predators, diseases, etc. To do this you may asexually reproduce by splitting the colony in half. Half leaves and half stays in the original location...called swarming. This happens usually early in spring to give the swarm time to build up for winter. Swarming impulse has lots of cues like longer day length, increasing temperatures, plenty of flower food resources and crowding of the colony with lots of brood and lots of workers with little space left in the hive. They simply need more room. This imperfect cue of crowding can take place when all of the things above happen and then add in a long period of rain, bad unsettled cooler weather, etc., that forces foragers to stay in the colony and reinforces this premature crowding cue.
They would have swarmed anyway, it would just have taken longer except the rain kept everybody in the hive and the crowding was enhanced. And, voila, the colony reproduced by swarming. I hope this helps.
Q Corn Dust
I have a question Jerry..... I’m a corn farmer and a beginning beekeeper. I need chemicals for the corn borer worm and I also need to keep my dust down away from my hive....Farmers are not the bees’ enemy, the European corn borer worm is....I’d like to know more about seed treatments. I like to read your Classroom in the bee journal--very interesting.
Thank you for your interest, Brian. We, beekeepers, farmers, suburbanites, everyone, are in this together. You, as a farmer and a beekeeper, can play a critical role in helping protect the health of your bees. Seed treatments are a lot better than the ‘old’ days when a farmer had to spray insecticides on acre after acre after acre. In those days spraying one acre covered about 44,000 sq. ft of land. The use of seed treatments is very targeted and reduces this to approximately 24 sq ft of land. This is a tremendous reduction. It is better than spraying everywhere on everything. In addition, it is a best practice in the seed treatment industry to understand the source of the “dust” and put in quality controls to minimize that dust. One way is to start with clean seeds. Another is to include polymers in the development of a seed treatment. These polymers are similar to those used in the paint and coating industry. The use of a polymer in seed treatments not only minimizes the dust from treated seeds, but also helps to improve the flow and plantability of the seeds.
There is a very thorough seed dust testing procedure and all new seed treatments are evaluated using industry standard testing. This work ensures that there will be effective seed treatments with minimal dust coming off the seed. Various polymers have been used for seed treatments and research is ongoing to find even better polymers. This includes looking at polymers that will form a good barrier on the seed then degrading after planting to allow the seed treatment to work better and to let the seed sprout. Finding the “perfect” polymer that breaks apart in the soil at a specific time is not as easy as it sounds, but the seed treatment industry is diligently working on this. In addition to new polymers, work is also being done studying flow agents like talc and graphite replacements that will reduce the amount of dust that is exhausted from the farmer’s planter. As a farmer, you can also help by not spreading dust when opening seed bags, avoid adding dust from the bottom of the bag to the planter, follow planter manufacturer recommendations for use of talc or graphite and be aware of wind directions when planting.
Q Timing Is Everything
Hello Jerry, I have a question about what could be causing my hives to have low adult bee populations? Here is my situation. I live in Eastern Georgia on the coastal plain. I have fifty hives and last fall almost every one had their deep and med brood chambers packed with bees and stores. I treated with Terra-pro, Apiguard, and gave some Nozevit, and several pounds of pollen sub to each colony. In Feb I treated with Tylan, fed some more pollen, and the bees looked great. They were put on canola at the end of February. I sold 50 three-pound packages in March and April and then soon afterward 75-95 percent of them swarmed. Ten ended up without queens, but I successfully requeened them. Then, I moved them to north Georgia for sourwood. Even though there were 8 plus frames of brood in a lot of colonies, only about 20% made decent crops of 40-70 lbs. All summer, many of the colonies didn't make any surplus honey and the supers have practically no bees in them. Recently, I decided that Nosema must be seriously hurting the adult population. I sent samples of bees from the entrances of two hives to the Beltsville bee lab and they had 2.5 and 5.5 million spores per bee. I know that may not be very accurate, but anyhow some people say that is really high and Randy Oliver says his bees thrive with spore counts like that in late summer. What is your opinion? If you think nosema is the problem, do you have any recommendations on treatment, especially if there is no antibiotic treatment window between Feb and Sept? I know this is my business decision, but any help you can give would be greatly appreciated.
Thanks a lot,
Sorry for all the problems you are having, but this is a new business model for beekeepers. Sometimes you do certain things and they look great and then you do the same things and they look crummy.
My first question would be: Why are you treating with Tylan and Terra-pro? Do you have AFB or EFB? If not, then these antibiotics are causing ‘stress’ for the bees and making it harder for them to get a certain degree of nutrition if you kill all of their good gut microbes. Then, pollen sub can be eaten or dragged out as trash, depending on colony needs and season. I have attached a paper for you to take a look at. I am not sure Nozevit hurts particularly, but I am not sure there is data that says it does much either.
Did you do a complete dosage treatment with Apiguard to cover the multi-week period of brood emerging and Varroa with them? Remember that 2/3 of Varroa are behind cappings in sealed cells with developing brood as they reproduce also. One treatment may only kill or disable phoretic or exposed Varroa mites and not do anything to the reproducing Varroa behind capped cells. Nosema could be an issue, but in summer generally honey bees can leave the hive and void/defecate and spore numbers are reduced. There is some data that suggests that honey bees exposed to chemicals and antibiotics will have a higher Nosema spore load because the honey bee’s gut lining cells die sooner, leaving an opening for Nosema and competing good organisms are not there to compete to make it harder for Nosema to reproduce in the gut cells. Then, you have the queen issue and did they supersede multiple times breaking up the brood replacement cycle. And did the Sourwood yield like it has historically or was there a change in nectar production as well?
As you know, honey production depends on having lots of foragers, which means little Varroa pressure, and visible disease pressure. These foragers want to forage for lots of nectar because the queen is laying well and there is this cue for food collection to meet immediate demand with lots of empty space to store it. Then, as insurance these insects are always preparing for winter and if resources are available, surplus will be stored. Break up or minimize any of these prime requirements and you will have a decrease in visible honey production.
Why you didn’t have lots of bees with lots of reasons to forage and a place to store it is a question for you as the beekeeper manager. Varroa control is imperative with safe efficacious Varroa treatments, following label directions. This should go hand in hand along with queen presence and stability and appropriate food resources to encourage laying. These are all top concerns.
I don’t think the spore level you noted in summer is a deal breaker. Going into fall with this spore count might be a different story.
Q Night Extracting
Thanks for such a great column--now for my question. We are getting ready to extract for the first time at home. The only place I have to extract is my patio. If I wait until night time, will the bees leave me alone? The hives are about 20 feet away. Thanks for the help.
Jerry S. Wilson
Thank you Jerry (Great name!) for the compliment.
It is always best to not entice the colonies with odors, visuals or sticky residues if at all possible. Can I assume that by your email address that this extraction will yield raw materials for Flat Earth Brewing its next Honey Beer? And, can I also assume that your patio is not screened in? Twenty feet is pretty close. You can’t get inside and use a kitchen with plastic sheeting on the floor and a patient and understanding spouse or significant other? Do you have friends with homes or garages that honey supers could be taken to and not worry about the potential collateral damage of lots of things you haven’t even thought about? I am sure your mind has bounced around about all of these options and I hope you can activate one of them.
If not, honey bees cannot see the color red. Since you will have to see and do not want to extract during the day (crazy robbing behavior), you could put red light bulbs in the fixtures. The light will allow you to see, but not the bees, and any excitement you may cause may still allow them to leave the hive, but most will crawl and not fly, which can help initially (until they start crawling up your pants!).
Jerry, I would encourage you for your very first extraction to go someplace secure, closed in, with no access by your bees or other insects. This will allow you to have a nice relaxed first honey extraction. If not, this might not be a great first experience either then or the day after!
Q Deception in the Queen's Court
I’ve been out of the game for the last couple of years, but I’m back. I had both of my hips replaced last year, and previous to that, the lifting and twisting was just too much for me and I let my bees slide. I started from scratch this spring with two colonies.
Several weeks ago in one hive I found queen cells with larvae, so I took off a nucleus and raised brood comb above the queen excluder, and replaced with some empty frames. I didn’t record any dates, but a week to 10 days later I noticed bees clustering at the entrance and thought I’d better check them again as they might still be thinking of swarming. I found the queen, lots of brood, and eggs, and no swarm cells. As I was putting the hive back together (it was in four deeps and three shallows with a double brood chamber), I noticed a queen cup above the queen excluder with an egg in it. I used to think the workers would move eggs to a queen cell as it just seemed a little hard to believe that the queen would always abdicate the throne all on her own accord. Somewhere in my reading, I decided to discard that idea. Now I’m not so sure. The only thing I can think of is that the egg was there when I raised the brood, didn’t hatch and wasn’t removed by the house keepers, (which seems to me pretty unlikely?) or the queen managed to lay an egg through the queen excluder. If that was the case, why were there no eggs in the queen cups below the excluder? This is a fairly populous colony; could there have been a small band of insurgents that were knee bent on swarming, and didn’t get the message that the revolution was quashed?
There is no data that I am aware of that indicates that individual honey bees somehow will have the intellectual capacity to realize that a replacement queen is needed in another part of the hive. Then, to also know or anticipate how old an egg is and then to pull it up away from its sticky end, safely transport it and stick it back down in place in another cell, in another part of the hive or comb. And, to then allow it to hatch and be accepted as the receiver of lots of royal jelly-laced food to develop into a female capable of mating in the air with lots of drones.
All that said, this type of report happens all the time. So, what is really going on is the question. I guess if I have a vote, it would be that somehow, someway an egg was already in place and it just happened that it was in the right place at the right time.
Glad you are back as a beekeeper
Q Canola Honey
We keep 20 hives of bees in Manitoba, Canada, just north of the North Dakota, Minnesota border and Canola is one of our main honey sources. However, Canola will crystallize in the comb fairly quickly. The problem arises when you have taken off the canola honey and remaining supers on the hive may contain some canola in them and while waiting for second-cut alfalfa to fill the combs, it is at that extraction when the crystallization becomes the problem. The question is----- what is the best method to get that crystallized honey out of the cells and in some cases most of an entire frame?
Honey crystallizes at varying rates based on the sugar ratios in the nectar/honey that is produced. The honey, in effect, is trying to balance the sugar ratios and so some precipitate out as crystals. Canola will crystallize incredibly quickly and many times, if one misses an extraction window, it will crystallize right in the comb. It crystallizes so firmly that many times honey bees will not even try to remove it, even when starving. So, all that said, it can be a big solid mess—a bigger mess if it is in the brood nest. And, as you have found out, it influences the next nectar collected in the same comb.
The only way to get it out is to melt the whole comb and heat it to such a degree that the wax separates from the liquefying honey. If using one of the hard plastic foundations, one has to scrap it down to the foundation and melt the wax/honey mixture from there. Not easy, not pretty and not the first choice. But, at least, you are replacing comb with new foundation and with new comb sometime in the future if you want to rationalize and put a better face on it. Hang in there. If beekeeping were easy, everybody would be doing it.
Q Moisture in Honey?
Jerry, I read with great interest your response to "Humidity and a Sweet Deal" in your Classroom Column in the Sept. 2012 issue of ABJ. I have routinely experienced the excessive moisture in capped honey you indicate as a "fact of life in some southern states". However, I live in southern New Jersey. I am lucky and blessed to have bountiful honey crops and therefore only extract frames with >90% capped honey, usually bottle it within a day, yet still experience the greater than 18% moisture. Disappointingly, this pure product has been disqualified from honey shows more than once. I believe the moisture percent for defining honey has been established, at least in the USA, by the FDA, yet in its purest form, my honey cannot meet this simple requirement.
I have two questions: First, more academically, when and how was the specific moisture percent established as the standard; why is so much emphasis placed upon these numbers? And second, how can I achieve this percentage without heating, blending, or otherwise manipulating my natural product? Thank you so much.
I know New Jersey gets hot, humid weather from time to time and so do many other states. This weather can sometimes cause high moisture honey. I remember having 20% moisture in honey when I lived in Michigan years ago. But, you will have to admit that the Southeastern States are generally more consistent in humidity and heat when honey bees are collecting nectar many times of the year. Like most things in life, the 18% moisture level is an average across the product for the US. Take a look at http://www.fao.org/docrep/meeting/005/x4616e/x4616e0b.htm where you will find the Intl Standard, which is much higher than and deviates from some local/regional definitions in the US. If the bees cap the honey above 18%, then it is what it is without your intervention to decrease the moisture. And, if you go to http://
www.honey.com/images/downloads/honeydefs.pdf, you will see a range for honey moisture that is typical in the US. So, I don’t think you are locked into 18% Phyllis, but it is an accepted “average”.
Of course, the goal here is to establish a standard moisture percentage maximum at which honey will not ferment. However, honey can still sometimes ferment, even at 18% moisture. You definitely do not want your honey to ferment, unless you are making mead. Fermented honey can blow the lids off containers and cause not only a mess, but a lot of customer ill will!
If you test your honey before you start uncapping frames, you can remove excess moisture with heat and dry air in a confined area (a hot room). Crisscross the supers to obtain maximum surface area exposure to the hot, dry air. If your honey is already extracted, gently heating it for a period of time will drive off some moisture, but the heat can also harm the flavor and color of the honey. Commercial honey dehydrators are available, but are too expensive for the smaller beekeeper.
Q Do Bees Have Trouble with Electricity?
I could use some help. For many years I have heard electrical interference, i.e./high tension power lines etc., can disrupt and hamper the honey bee's sense of navigation. I am in the process of establishing a couple permanent beeyard locations in "Bear Country". My plan is to build an enclosure out of 4x16 foot welded stockade fencing panels. As a bear deterrent, I would mount this all on insulated poles and electrify it with a livestock fencer.
I have two questions: 1. Will the electrical current generated be disruptive to the bees’ sense of navigation? 2. Will flying in and out through the grid openings in the stockade fencing (approximately 6x10 inches) also be significantly detrimental to their efficiency? Thank you in advance for your help in this matter.
JOE GRAHAM ANWSERS FIRST then JERRY HAYES ANSWERS
Thousands beekeepers have electrified bear fences and we have never heard of any of them having the kinds of problems about which you have inquired. Some research was done years ago regarding placing beehives under high tension electrical lines, but to my knowledge, nothing definitive was ever established by the research. I am forwarding your question on to Jerry Hayes, who writes our Classroom column, in case he has anything else to add to the discussion.
Hello Paul, I would have to agree with Joe that there will be no deleterious effects from a DC "Bear Fence”. Remember that honey bees have been around for millions of years dealing with natural electrical disturbances (solar flares), cosmic rays, background radiation, etc. and they, like us, have adapted. You'll be fine and the bees will be fine--much better off than a hungry bear eating their brood and honey!