The Classroom

 The Classroom October 2014

by Jerry Hayes


Q Bees Collecting Honey Dew

I am in NW Tennessee. I was having trouble with my phone line and decided to walk to the mailbox and check the line also. I came up to a pecan tree and it had a buzz like a swarm! I walked around the tree, shaded my eyes but couldn't t see flying bees right off. But after close observation, both honey bees and bumble bees were working on the leaves and I have never seen this before. Is this common?

James Hinton,


You may have heard about a very small insect called an aphid. It is one of the few insects that like honey bees have some level of sociality; meaning they like to live together. Aphids feed on plant sap. The leaves are the thinnest part so allow the piercing mouth parts of the aphid to access the fluid in the leaves. This sap is very thin and of very low nutritional value, especially protein. An individual aphid has to process a lot of sap to get the nutrition it requires. The aphid’s digestive system is almost a straight tube from the mouth to the anus, the excretory end. Because the volume of sap processed is so great, most of it is expelled. And most of it has lots of sugars in it that the aphid simply can’t utilize, so it is expelled on the leaf surface.

This is where the ‘sociality’ part comes in. Put hundreds or thousands of aphids on a leaf and then multiply those by all the leaves on a tree and that is a lot of sugary aphid excretion, sometimes called honey dew. This is a food resource that is easy to collect and has food value for all sorts of insects, ‘bees’ included, but also ants and some small mammals, fungus and yeast etc.

Honey bees and their cousins land on the leaves, lick up the sugary aphid excrement and bring it back to the colony to be used immediately or stored if the volume is great enough. It isn’t really honey because it isn’t nectar from flowering plants collected by the bees, brought back and turned into or stored as honey. This material is from another insect, the aphid. In Germany, as an example, there is a lucrative market for this special material, honey dew honey, that is collected by honey bees from the Black Forest region and extracted and packaged in jars just like real honey. It has a unique taste, color and odor and is prized by some.

The short story is that honey bees and bumble bees are simply collecting an easy sugar-based food resource deposited by aphids on the leaf surface.

Q Pressure-treated Lumber; Placing Beeswax in Your Smoker; and Bee Aggression

1.    My first question concerns the recent discussion of using pressure-treated wood (PTW) in beehives. I have been using PTW for my hive stands and the 2x4 hive support-frame that the bottom board sits on. I have had no problem with these, but they are painted. Wouldn't painting PTW help to seal in the toxins and prevent the bees from contacting it?

2.    Is it okay to use beeswax in my smoker to help keep it going? When I started beekeeping, I read many books and none mentioned dropping in a little ball of beeswax to help keep your fuel burning. Jamie Ellis' article, in the May issue of ABJ, had a good discussion of smokers, and a couple of excellent tips, but he did not mention using beeswax to keep it going. Pine needles for fuel are often mentioned, but never beeswax. So, is this just too obvious to mention, or is there some problem with using beeswax? Perhaps it gums up the smoker? Or perhaps burning beeswax is not calming to the bees?

3.    And finally, what are the elements that affect the mood of a hive? Because of bears, I have my hive on the roof of my house. This spring for about 3 weeks, I could not work in my backyard without a veil because a 1/2 dozen bees would get into my face. It appeared to be one hive in particular, and I made plans to requeen in spite of the fact that it was a very productive hive. But before I could get a queen, the problem seemed to take care of itself. So I guess my question is: What are the elements that would cause one hive to become aggressive when the others don't appear to be?

Roger Ledbetter


1.    Letting the wood breathe, dry down and weather for a few weeks or more is a good idea for the use that is going to be close to or in contact with honey bees. Painting is good as well after drying down and off gassing to seal anything else in.

2.    Beeswax is highly flammable and once it gets going, it is almost impossible to put out. It doesn’t smolder; it burns really well. That is why it is used to help start fires for camping or fireplaces. Don’t put it in a smoker unless you want a flame thrower.

3.    Remember that honey bee queens will mate with 20+ or so drones and store that sperm in convoluted layers for later use. This diverse genetic nature of multiple drone matings is why honey bees are survivors since each drone brings unique genetics to the colony. Some of these genetics are good and some from other drones are considered bad or unhelpful. Depending on the drone sperm ‘layer’ the queen is accessing to fertilize eggs to produce workers, a drone could have carried a gene for more heightened defensive characteristics. Once the queen used up that sperm from the drone with the grumpy gene and another different drone’s sperm was accessed, then the attitude of the workers produced would have changed as well.

Q Do Wet Supers Attract Small Hive Beetles?

Thanks for all you do for us beekeepers. When I am done extracting my honey supers, I stack them wet in a barn with moth crystals on them. But this year I am seeing more and more hive beetles. Will these wet honey supers be fine with the moth crystals on them? The only honey that is in them is what is left from extracting. My question is: Will the hive beetle come in and mess up my honey supers with what little honey is left on them?



Wet supers are very attractive to small hive beetles (SHB) Steve. They smell like a disrupted honey bee colony ready to be used as a SHB nursery. Can you stack them outside away from your colonies to discourage robbing for a couple days and let the bees clean them up? They benefit from the easy nutrition and you benefit from dry supers. SHB attraction decreases and then you can store them as you have been.

Q Supering for Maximum Honey Production

My honey production is very good this year, in spite of the fact that I had to leave my hives for two months in the middle of the nectar flow. About two weeks after the main flow started, I stacked two to four additional supers on each hive. Some of the supers had drawn comb; others were only foundation. With the additional supers, the hives ended up taller than I am with eight or nine supers.
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