Plastic Foundation – Love it, or hate it?

I’m not at all iffy about my preference for plastic foundation, and here is one very big reason why:

A used plastic frame

The old comb has simply been scraped off of this used plastic frame – nothing else was done to it.

This frame wasn’t washed or waxed – no sugar water, honey-bee-healthy or anything else was applied.

Once you scrape off any old comb all you have to do is put such a frame back into a reasonably strong hive, which needs more comb, while a decent flow is on, and 2-3 weeks later:

New comb built on a used plastic frame.

Used Plastic frame after 2 1/2 weeks in a strong hive, which needs comb, during a good flow.

Pretty much like new.  The picture at the top of the page is the same frame at the end of May – full of honey which is just beginning to be capped.

Notice that while the frame in the picture is solid plastic I actually do not prefer solid plastic FRAMES – for various reasons.   My personal preference is for plastic foundation in wooden frames.  I have given all of the main options – foundationless frames, wax foundation, plastic foundation, plastic frames, even frameless top bars – pretty fair trials in my apiary as you can see from the motley variety in the picture.  I don’t throw things away just because I decide I prefer something else.  It all works if you give it a chance.

Notice the qualifiers:

  • reasonably strong hive
  • which needs more comb
  • while a decent flow is on – feeding is a poor substitute at best.

You must have all 3 conditions to get plastic foundation efficiently drawn into comb – if even one is missing results will be slow and disappointing – and if you try to push it they may build wacky “snakey” comb which is at right angles to the frames.  Under less than ideal conditions you are probably more likely to get comb drawn on wax foundation or on foundationless frames – however in less than ideal conditions the bees sometimes just EAT wax foundation instead of drawing comb on it.

In case you are wondering our main spring flows are almost over by now – Early June.  Late April – early June is the usual time to get comb built in our area.

 

Posted in Bee Keeping Equipment, Learn about Bee Keeping | 2 Comments

What to do when you are Queenless

This article was originally published in May 2013, but this issue comes up like clockwork every year…

You think your hive is queenless – you can’t spot the queen, and you don’t see any eggs.  What now?

First, don’t panic.  Next, if at all possible give the hive a frame of young open brood or eggs from another hive – aren’t you glad you have more than one?  If the hive really is queenless, then it will start queen cells on the frame of brood right away, and they will be easy for even a novice to spot within 3 days.

If they don’t try to start queen cells on a fresh frame of brood during Spring through Fall then they already have a queen.   If they do already have a queen they WILL NOT accept a new queen – no matter how much you pay for it.

Just about the only ways to be sure that a hive is really and truly queenless is to do the frame-of-brood thing or to actually remove the queen yourself.  Looking for the queen doesn’t do it – even an experienced queen spotter can fail when it really matters.

Also, giving an actually queenless hive a frame of open brood will help to prevent it from developing a laying worker – I think I already said that, but still…

Any hive will benefit from a donated frame of brood.

The reason that you might think that a hive is queenless when it really isn’t is that while a queenless hive will pretty much always try to make a new queen it takes about 24 days more or less for that new queen to develop, get mated, and start laying eggs.  For many people – myself and my 50 yr old eyes included – it will be another week before there is brood which is easy to spot.  So almost a month between becoming queenless and easily spotting brood.  During that time all of the eggs that the previous queen laid will emerge leaving the hive completely broodless after 24 days – all of the worker brood emerges in 21 days leaving only capped Drone brood.  This can make you think that you have a laying worker or drone laying queen.

Whenever in doubt – give any possibly queenless hive a frame of open brood.

Timeline of Queenlessness

No brood of any kind, population weak, laying workers, SHB, robbers, or wax worms taking over – queenless too long to save in my opinion. Shake it out – it’s a lost cause.

No brood of any kind but population strong- hive has been queenless for over three weeks – at least 24 days. If the population is still strong and you can see where they have cleaned out comb for a queen to lay eggs in there is probably a queen that either hasn’t started laying yet, or has laid eggs that you are not spotting. Giving it a frame of brood is good luck anyway.

Capped Drone brood only – hive has been queenless for just about 3 weeks.

Lots of capped worker brood, but no open brood at all – queenless for about 1 1/2 – 2 1/2 weeks.

Open larva but no eggs or young brood – Queenless 6-8 days. You should find capped queen cells in a hive like this.

If I Made a hive queenless then I usually try to leave it alone for about 3-4 weeks if I can remember exactly when I did it. I need to keep better records I know. If I find one that looks like it has been queenless for only a couple of weeks or less I look for cells and then leave it alone for a couple of weeks. I always give a hive which has been queenless for over 3 weeks (little if any worker brood)  a frame of young brood from another hive to see if it builds new cells or so as to confirm if it is still queenless – and to ward off laying worker.

Remember – it takes a hive about 12 days to raise a queen, but it takes that queen another week to harden up and get mated, and then another week to start laying.  Then it might be another week before you can spot any brood.  About a whole month from start to finish to produce an easy to find laying queen.

But it only takes a few minutes to give a hive a frame of brood – and avoid disaster.

And by the way – you will not hurt the donating hive by stealing one frame of brood from it – even if you do it every week for a while.  If it bothers you then plan to pay it back once you get the other hive queenright and healthy again.

Posted in Honey Bee How to, Learn about Bee Keeping | 2 Comments

Be Careful with your Queen Excluder

Almost every beginning beekeeper has a queen excluder that came with a kit – and almost everyone is anxious to deploy it so that they can get a super or two of nice pristine honey without any brood to worry about.  To everything there is a season, and your first year with bees is not the time to use your excluder – at least not like that.

Every year I get a question or run across someone who is wondering why their bees won’t go through their queen excluder – to get to the super of bare foundation sitting on top.   Well the short answer is that they probably never will.   Bees don’t really like to go through a queen excluder anyway, but if there isn’t anything above it that they want (bare foundation) then they almost surely won’t – unless the hive is absolutely cram packed with bees, in which case they are more likely to swarm than to go through an excluder to get to foundation.

As a general rule don’t use a queen excluder until after you have enough comb drawn out to fill your brood boxes and at least 1 honey super.  Then you can put the excluder between the brood chamber and the honey supers – with drawn comb in them – and the bees are much more likely to co-operate.   Although even then they make the hive more likely to swarm.

If you do want to use them so that you don’t have brood in your honey supers you can wait until most of the honey flow is over to add the excluder – say around May 20 or so, after the poplar and locust bloom are about over. Then any brood above it will emerge and the comb will get back filled with honey. As long as you get the queen below it that is.

If you use a queen excluder during the honey flow it will be more work to keep your bees from swarming. But it will also make it so that you have fewer boxes to inspect for queen cells.

It seems that a lot of hobby bee keepers don’t use them anymore – but commercial honey producers mostly do – I think.  If you use an excluder it won’t really make your bees produce less honey – not so you would notice anyway – but they may store more of it below the excluder therefore you won’t have to feed them as much.

As long as they are not out of room below they will be very reluctant to go through an excluder – which is kind of alright, because they will get the brood boxes fully stocked with honey before they go up into the supers.   Which is actually a good thing about the old tried and true method of using deep brood and shallow honey supers with an excluder always between them – if there is any honey in the supers that is yours, all honey below the excluder stays with the hive. It made it an easy call for new bee keepers and also results in pretty white honey combs that don’t have brood cocoons in them – for what that’s worth.

Queen excluders are just a tool, and like any tool can be useful if used correctly, but can be counterproductive if misused.   Because of this many people call them honey excluders, but research indicates that is not really the case.

Posted in Bee Keeping Equipment, Honey Bee How to, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Swarm Prevention – Cut down Splits

If you have looked into your hives in the last few days it is very likely that you have seen signs of swarm preparation – rows of queen cups on the bottom of frames, dense populations, nectar choked hives with little room for the queen to lay in, lots of drones in all stages of development – maybe even swarm cells.

The next few weeks will make or break your beekeeping season, and if your bees take to the trees they won’t be working for you any more.   Swarm prevention is tough – especially if you don’t have drawn comb to work with.  A Cut Down Split does not require a stock of drawn comb.

Timing is critical – Now Is The Time to do a Cut Down Split – about 2 weeks before the likely beginning of our main flow.

When it comes to swarm prevention it is folly to claim a 100% guarantee on anything, but a cut down split – correctly done – is close, and does not sacrifice your honey crop.

In a cut down split you cut down all of the queen cells and then remove the queen and most of the open brood from the original hive to a new location.  Then (in theory) the Queenless hive in the original location doesn’t swarm because it doesn’t have a queen or swarm cells.  Because it also doesn’t have much open brood to feed the nurse bees and young bees which will soon emerge join the already large workforce of foragers and a large honey crop – and drawn comb – will be produced.  The hive will produce an emergency queen from eggs or open brood which are bound to be present on the capped brood frames you leave in the hive.  So, you get a good honey crop, and a new queen (produced at the ideal time) without any further swarm management after doing the split.

The queenright hive (which you place in a new location in the apiary) won’t swarm because it doesn’t have a workforce to swarm with – with one caveat, It must not have any swarm cells when you make the split, or it is likely to swarm anyway.

You have to find and eliminate all of the swarm cells from both halves of the split for this manipulation to work as planned and prevent them from swarming.  Tips – without using much smoke, unstack the hive all the way down to the bottom board, add an empty hive body, then examine and replace every frame one at a time after shaking almost all of the bees off.  If you use too much smoke on the uninspected boxes you will push the bees downward, and by the time you get to the bottom there will be masses of bees to deal with.

Posted in Honey Bee How to, Seasonal, Swarms | 4 Comments

Queens For Pennies

April is prime time for making increase (at least it is when there isn’t a cold front blasting through) and while splitting hives is simple, effective and helps to manage swarming – you might also be interested in giving queen rearing a try.  Now is the time to go for it if you are.

Randy Oliver has a new article on his website Queens For Pennies which details a simple and rather unique method for producing a bunch of queen cells from your very best one queen – very little special equipment required compared to other ways to go about it.  This article also has a very good illustration of how to graft with a Chinese tool.  You really should check it out.

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Splitting Honey Bee Hives for Increase

This article was originally published on Feb 20, 2014 but contains seasonally relevant information.

Like every other living thing our bees have the ability to make more bees.  But instead of allowing our colonies to multiply many beekeepers spend hundreds of dollars to buy bees to replace the 1/3 of our colonies which we KNOW from statistics are going to die every year.

Every beekeeper should know the basic skill of how to make increase by splitting hives.  Not only should we know how, but more of us need to be routinely doing it every year.

Maybe you have tried splitting before and for some reason the results were discouraging – that does happen about a third of the time more or less.  I was fortunate in that when I split my first hive during my first year keeping bees it did work out.  That positive experience encouraged me to continue to make increase every year, and for me it has become one of the most rewarding things that I do as a beekeeper.  I would like to encourage others to try making their own increase – or try it again – so that you can also enjoy this aspect or beekeeping.

As you know the queen is the key component to a honey bee colony.  A good queen and a few workers can soon grow into a productive hive. Splitting is the simple way of producing queens and new hives.

You might have heard that the “emergency” queens that are produced by splitting hives are of inferior quality to those that are commercially produced from grafted queen cells.  But the truth is that Queens produced by splitting can be very high quality and $30 store bought queens (often $50 with shipping) can be very poor.  And when you use simple time honored methods to produce your own ($free$) queens – if one doesn’t perform to your standards you can eliminate her without imagining a $50 bill going up in smoke.**

During the beekeeping season any queenless colony will try to produce a queen – So all we have to do is put together a queenless colony and make sure that it has what it needs to make a high quality queen – and then let the bees do the rest.

During the reproductive season the required resources to make a new queen are – eggs or very young larva, food, and plenty of bees to care for the developing queen.*  That’s it.

The reason that it is possible for a hive to produce a new queen is that the only difference between a queen and a worker bee is the diet provided by the nurse bees during the first 5 days of its life.  Think about that for a moment – any of the thousands of female worker eggs that a queen bee lays can become a queen instead of a worker if it is fed queen food – royal jelly – for 5 days.  However it takes hundreds of well fed nurse bees working together to properly feed each developing queen and form a good queen cell.

Mid April – early May is probably the most ideal time to split hives because:

  • At this time there are plenty of drones available to mate with new queens.
  • Weather is usually settled – not too hot or cold. Moderate weather is better for mating and less stressful on hives.
  • Also at this time of year there is more nectar and pollen available in our area than at any other – so developing queens can get the best possible nutrition.

But, hives can be split any time there are drones available.

 The simplest way to split a hive of bees is to just divide all of  the frames from one hive between two hive setups with each getting half of the brood, bees and food – and then just hope for the best.  One hive will have the old queen, and one will make a new queen – you really don’t even have to know which is which at the time.  With a little bit of luck and if the hive was pretty strong to begin with that is all you have to do.  One month after making the split – if all goes as planned – which it does 60-75% of the time – you should be able to find fresh brood in the hive which made a new queen.

With a big strong hive you really can just do that – a blind walk away split – and it will work just fine.

However if you are not starting with a great big, densely populated double deep hive there are several things that you can do to improve the chances that you will end up with a good hive and a quality queen anyway.

  • One thing that you can do is buy a queen from a reputable producer and put it into the queenless half of the split.  Furnishing a queen improves the chances of success by quite a lot, and allows both hives to start building up right away.  A split with an already-laying queen doesn’t have to be particularly big or strong to be viable.
  • If you don’t furnish a store bought queen then you will be mostly concerned with making sure that the queenless split has a strong population of well fed nurse bees.  It takes hundreds of bees to feed a larva and produce a good queen cell, and the more densely populated a hive is, the better the results will be.
  • You can make sure that the queenless half of the split has lots of nurse bees in it by shaking them off of brood frames from the queenright half of the split – or from other hives.  Just make sure you don’t accidentally move a queen while you are at it.
  • You can also put the queenless half of the split in the old location so that it will retain almost all of the foragers – which will help to insure that there is plenty of fresh nectar and pollen avaialable.
  • Or you can even split the old queen out into a small nucleus hive with just a frame or two of bees and brood – leaving the queenless half as strong as possible.
  • If you find queen cells during an inspection you can very gently move the frame it is on + a frame of food stores – along with the clinging bees + an extra shake of nurse bees off of another brood frame  to form a nucleus hive.  This is almost exactly what queen producers call a “mating nuc” and depending on the time of year and weather conditions it can grow into a fully self sufficient colony before winter.

Other than the blind walk away split which was mentioned first – all of those things require you to know which hive has the queen in it.  I  don’t know about you – some people are very good at finding queens – but for me it can be a very time consuming, frustrating process.  If I’m not actually looking for queens I often see them casually walking around – but it never fails that if I really need to find her – she is nowhere in sight.

How to split a bee hive without having to find the queen.

Nurse bees are very attracted to open brood – so you can use open brood to lure nurse bees through a queen excluder and separate them  from the queen.

Move the hive you are working on to a new location a few feet away in the yard – as you move it stack the boxes in reverse order.

Put an empty nuc or hive setup in the original location – Almost all of the foragers will leave the hive you are working on and go to the original location even if the hive in that spot looks different.  This will allow you to do the rest of the manipulations without having to deal with so many bees.

If the hive you are working with is pretty populous you should temporarily put an empty hive body on the bottom board to make room for all of the bees you are about to shake down.

One or two quick shakes and a frame covered with bees will go from this…

…to this. Now you can easily make sure that the Queen is not on this frame.

If your goal is to split the queen out into a nuc then go ahead and arrange the resources you want to use to make up her nuc in the bottom box – a frame or three of mostly capped brood, a good frame of honey and pollen stores, some empty comb for the queen to lay in, and a frame of foundation to give them some room to expand.  But little if any open brood.

Shake/brush all or almost all of the bees off of most of the frames of open brood and into the bottom box(es) one frame at a time and then look hard at them for a moment to make sure that the one bee still clinging to it is not the queen – then put those beeless open brood frames in a spare empty box.

If at any point you happen to spot the queen you can stop shaking bees. Put the frame with the queen on it and another frame of bees to keep it company into an empty nuc or hive setup.    Finish sorting the frames and put pretty much all of the open brood into the one box.

Now you know that the queen is not in the box of open brood, because there are very few bees in there at all, and you made sure that none of the few bees that there are is the queen. This whole process might take 15 minutes.

If your goal is to make a new hive with a purchased queen then you should also put some  frames of capped brood and some stores in the beeless box along with the open brood frames – these are the frames that you want to use to start a new hive.  Of course shake the bees off of them too.

By the time you finish shaking all of the bees down there might be a lot of them outside of the hive – but don’t worry – even if one of them is the queen she will crawl back in through the entrance along with everyone else.  And if by chance she doesn’t she will almost certainly be surrounded by a mass of workers that will be easy to spot.

Use empty frames of foundation or empty comb to fill up any partial boxes.

Now you will have one box sitting on the bottom board with a few frames in it – very little if any open brood, and almost all of the bees.  Most importantly the queen will be somewhere in there.  Chances are there will be so many bees that they will be hanging all over the outside as well as crammed inside – but that’s ok it will all work out.

Go ahead and place your queen excluder on top of that box full of bees.  Use smoke or a brush or whatever you need to accomplish this without squishing a bunch of bees – one of them is your queen so try to be gentle.

You will also now have at least one box with most of the open brood, and you might have other boxes with empty comb, honey, pollen etc.  But other than a few curious foragers or robbers there won’t be all that many bees in these boxes.  Stack all of them above the excluder with the box of brood on top.

Close up the hive.

Come back in an hour or so.

When you come back that box of open brood on top of the stack will be full of mostly nurse bees, but the queen will still be below the excluder in the bottom box, and all of the foragers will be in the nuc that you left in the original location.

So you can use any of the frames or bees above the excluder to make up a split without any fear of moving the queen. Also since most of these bees on the brood frames are nurse bees very few of them will drift.  If you are making a queenless split – which will make its own queen – you can put it along with most of the nurse bees back in the original location

If are splitting the queen out into her own nucleus hive all you have to do is remove the bottom box and place it on a new bottom board in a new location in the yard.   Most of the foragers will have returned to the original location, and the queenright hive might need to be fortified with a frame or two of brood and/or some shaken off nurse bees from the strong queenless box.

Feed both halves for at least a week or so after splitting – this will go a long way to reduce stress.

Make a note of the date – in one month you should be able to find brood from the new queen.  But until then leave them alone as much as possible.

Tips and Footnotes *************************************

It sounds like I will have to spend a lot of money on Woodenware…  You can of course, but you don’t have to.  Any hive body can become a complete hive setup by setting it on top of a flat piece of wood (or hardware cloth) and using another one as a cover while leaving a crack for the bees to go in and out – it might not be pretty but it will work just fine.  You can also build a simple nucleus hive for less than $15.  So This is really no excuse.

What if you end up with more Colonies than you want? – Having extra colonies gives you the opportunity to cull/combine some that are under-performing.  Two or more small colonies can be combined in the spring to make a big strong honey production hive.  If you still have more than you want or need you can always sell bees – especially during spring.  Not interested in making money?  Then give them away.  In reality dealing with too many hives is not as much of a problem as it sounds like it might be.

Other reasons to split.

  • To produce nucleus hives for fun and profit.
  • Honey hives are work, but nucleus hives are fun.
  • Nucleus hives can be used to strengthen honey hives
  • Locally produced nucleus hive can be easily sold – especially in the Spring.
  • Nucs produce valuable resources such as drawn comb and brood
  • To make your apiary more sustainable
  • To avoid having to buy bees in the future
  • To produce extra/spare queens or even routine replacement queens.
  • You will never regret having a spare queen.
  • Sooner or later you will need a new queen
  • For optimum honey production hives should be requeened in mid/late summer.
  • A hive with a young vigorous queen is more likely to make it through the winter
  • As insurance in case of swarming
  • To prevent swarming
  • To Cause a brood break for varroa management
  • To produce locally adapted bees
  • As part of a program to become more treatment free

The best chance of splitting successfully is just before and during the main flow – mid April through early June in our area.  After that it is still possible, but gets steadily more difficult.

 When a hive is split it is preferable that the half which will be producing queen cells has lots of bees – even if the other half which already has a queen does not.

The developing queen inside of a capped cell is extremely fragile until the cell has been capped for about 4-5 days – avoid disturbing them at this time if at all possible.  If you must, then be very gentle.

If you find a nice queen cell during an inspection then you no longer have to worry about needing lots of nurse bees to raise your queen – the bees already took care of it for you – the developing queen inside the cell  has already been well fed.  All you need to do is be careful with it and set it up in a new hive with enough resources to get started.

Making a new queen cell requires a relatively strong (not necessarily big) hive with plenty of well fed nurse bees, eggs or very young brood, and drones for the virgin queen to mate with once she is mature.

The earliest time to split and begin making a queen is when you see capped drone brood (at the purple eye stage of development) in your hives – which indicates that by the time the new queen is ready to mate mature drones from other hives will be available.

If instead of a laying queen you can furnish the new hive with a queen cell – which you have found during an inspection – then the split doesn’t have to be particularly strong, nor does it absolutely require young brood, but drones must still be available for the new queen to mate with when she emerges. A queen cell takes 5-11 days off of the process depending on the age of the cell.

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If a hive fails to make a laying queen
When you make a queenless split (or a hive becomes queenless for any reason) you should be able to easily spot brood from the new queen in one month – mark the date on the hive. If after a month a thorough inspection fails to reveal any brood then the new queen probably got eaten by a bird or lost on the way back from mating.

Before small hive beetles arrived in our area you could have possibly tried again by  just adding a frame of fresh brood, but now such a long-term queenless hive would probably succumb to SHB long before a new queen could be brought up to lay. So if a hive is still queenless after a month you should either give it a new laying queen right away or shake it out (50 feet or so away) to prevent laying worker problems.  Redistribute the frame resources to other hives after freezing them for a couple of days to kill any SHB or eggs – there will be very little if any brood remaining in the hive by then, and practically no nurse bees – they will have become foragers already. If you remove the hive equipment from its spot completely the forager bees will peacefully join other hives. Nothing will have been wasted.

If you want to try again to make a new queen then on the same day you shake out the old nuc you can make up a new nuc from fresh brood and resources from another hive (along with clinging bees) and put it in the same spot as the one you shook out. The foragers from the hive you shook out will move right in and make it quite strong right away. Then you can safely let it try again to make another queen without risk of SHB or laying worker.  Laying workers are not oriented to their hive – so when you shake them out they can’t find their way back home.

You don’t really have to worry too much about finding the queen when you make up the new hive, because if you move the queen from another hive by accident then her old hive will now be queenless and will make a new queen.

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You can make a queen right split just about any time  during the season as long as both hives will still have enough bees to be viable – although it will work best if the hive you are splitting already has a good amount of brood , and a good population of  bees.

Caution! – if a hive already contains swarm cells when you split either or both halves may still swarm if you don’t remove the swarm cells. If you are not using a purchased queen then you can leave some queen cells on one frame of the queenless half of the split, but you need to remove all of the cells from the queenright half.

Removing the queen from a swarmy hive may not keep it from swarming no matter what you might have heard. A big strong hive that contains many swarm cells will probably issue several swarms with virgin queens even if you remove the old queen. You need to knock down most of the queen cells to prevent this.

If you split and one of the splits tries to swarm then it probably already had a cell started – or was just too strong. Usually splitting puts them in expansion mode and they build up and draw comb instead of trying to swarm right away. Unless the split already contains swarm cells.

I’m repeating myself – I guess it should be clear that you don’t want a queen right split to have swarm cells in it. You also don’t want a queenless split to have too many swarm cells or for the cells it has to be widely separated inside the hive. Either condition can result in multiple virgin swarms – but that is more likely to be a problem in bigger stronger hives than in a nuc.

If you split colonies which already contain swarm cells either or both halves of the split can still swarm – you need to remove all swarm cells from queenrite colonies and all but a few cells on a single frame in queenless splits.

A strong hive of honey bees with a dense population.

This is a very “strong” hive.

*Strong hives do not have to be big hives…  When beekeepers say strong hives they mean that it has a dense population of bees.  A 3 frame nuc with a lot of bees can be considered strong – while the same number of bees in a double deep hive would be very weak.

**What about drones?  Don’t worry about them.  Unless you get serious about rearing queens there will be plenty of drones available during the beekeeping season to mate with your queens.

 

Posted in Evergreen, Honey Bee How to, Learn about Bee Keeping, Seasonal, Short Course | 9 Comments

A few pointers for new beekeepers

If you see nectar being stored in brood comb during spring or summer you need to stop feeding or you will cause the hive to swarm. If it is natural nectar you need to take immediate action to prevent swarming.

Beekeeping isn’t rocket science, but an awful lot of beekeepers lose all or most of their bees every year.  You could read volumes about how to be a beekeeper, but if you commit to follow just a few suggestions you will increase your chances of success a great deal:

  • Do your weekly inspections – never let more than 2 weeks pass without one – make sure they stay queenright!  If this is the only thing you do it will increase your chances tremendously.
  • Keep them fed - but don’t overfeed and make them swarm.
  • Get at least one nucleus hive and split your hives  when they have at least 2 boxes full of bees and drawn comb.   I reccomend that you put robber screens on your nucs – or all hives for that matter if you have several hives of different sizes.
  • Treat them for mites (I reccomend Apiguard organic treatment for this one) sometime between July 15 – August 15.  Finishing treatments by August 15.
  • In mid-late September begin fast feeding heavy syrup until your hives have plenty of it stored for winter.
  • Treat again any time in December using a treatment which is appropriate for the temps at that time – MAQS, Apivar, Oxalic acid.
  • Don’t let them starve over winter – Properly applied Mt Camp sugar as insurance almost guarantees that your bees won’t starve to death during winter.

Do these things and you probably won’t be buying more bees next spring.  For more details check out the  Beekeeping Calendar. and the Beekeeping Schedule by Blooms.

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Bee Informed Partnership National Loss Survey

Dear Beekeeper,           

Beekeepers needed!  Thank you for your interest in participating in the National Colony Loss Management Survey organized by the Bee Informed Partnership and sponsored by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).

Please go to our online survey at http://10.selectsurvey.net/beeinformed/TakeSurvey.aspx?SurveyID=BIP2014 and complete the survey there.  It will be live on April 1st and close on April 30th.  Please do not complete the survey more than once. Information about past Winter Loss and National Management Surveys and the annual reports can be found online athttp://beeinformed.org/.

The Colony Loss Survey has evolved from our winter loss survey because last year we found that commercial beekeepers lost 25% of their colonies over the summer, and so we are now starting to monitor and report annual, in addition to winter losses.  The National Management Survey is conducted annually in conjunction with the Colony Loss Survey. Designed to take about 30 minutes, the 2 surveys are  aimed at looking for relationships between colony loses and colony management (including  disease treatment strategies, supplemental feeding, etc.) and/or other factors that may influence colony health (such as colony location, honey production, and forage type). Your participation in this research is voluntary and your responses will be kept confidential. In any publication or presentation resulting from this research, no personally identifiable information will be disclosed.

If you have any questions or comments, please contact us ataskbeeinformed@gmail.com.  Once again thank you for your participation.

Dr. Dennis vanEngelsdorp

Project Director, Bee Informed Partnership

University of Maryland

Karen Rennich

Project Manager, Bee Informed Partnership

University of Maryland

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The Home Stretch – Don’t let them starve!

If you have checked your hives already during the recent spring like weather you may have found as I did that some of your hives are light on stores.  You may also have seen that there is some nectar and a good bit of pollen coming in  from the Maple bloom.

Don’t count on your bees being able to feed themselves on the natural forage which is available if they are light.  They may be able to provide for their needs as long as the weather stays mild, but just a few days of wet or cold weather could result in starvation and colony death because of the amount of brood they have to feed.

If you have any doubt at all  it is awfully easy to give them some syrup or mountain camp sugar.  Any sugar which remains after the danger is over can be saved and used to make syrup – no waste.  Don’t let them starve when spring really is just around the corner!

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TN Beekeeping Annual Calendar

Annual Schedule for beekeepers – Of course all dates are approximate, and dependant on weather…

January

The Bees will be clustered during cold weather, but it is common for there to be several days  when the weather is warm enough for the bees to fly and cleanse – although little if any forage is available most years.

A small amt of brood production re-starts around mid January.

If hives are  light – or if it is your regular practice – Dry sugar, sugar candy, or pollen sub can be fed on top bars in almost any decent weather.

Order bees, maintain equipment.

Don’t let your bees starve – this goes for every month of the year.

If you plan to do a pre season varroa treatment you need to plan it now – depending on the specific treatment it may need to be completed long before honey supers go on.

February

Maple pollen and nectar may be available toward the end of the month, but usually bad weather limits foraging opportunities.  The Bees will be clustered during cold weather, but it is common for there to be several days  when the weather is warm enough for the bees to fly and cleanse.  Populations bottom out during February, and start to increase (healthy hives) by the end of the month.  Increasing amounts of brood increases food demand – hives can easily starve even when food is available in the hive if prolonged cold weather sticks them on brood.

Our state experts recommend a pre-season varroa treatment. If you plan to do this then you need to choose and order treatments so that you will have them when needed.   Mite-Away-Quick-Strips – formic acid – is best used in cooler temps and may be a good choice.  Apivar – amitraz – synthetic treatment must be completed at least 2 weeks before honey supers are added.  Please Do Not take this as an endorsement of these products – just information about their timeliness.

 

March

Maple blooms in earnest – with sufficient fair weather honey may be stored, but usually maple nectar is mostly consumed by increasing amounts of brood. Populations increase a lot in March.  By the time Dandelions bloom later in the month is the traditional time to start swarm prevention such as reversing hive bodies or adding honey supers.  Note the date of the main dandelion bloom – fruit trees and swarming usually follow about 3 weeks later.

Complete early mite treatments before adding honey supers as per directions for the particular poison.

Starvation remains an issue during cold snaps.  March and early April may be the time when the most hives do starve.  Fortunately there are usually fair days with upper 50 F temps when thorough inspections can be performed and countermeasures can be taken.  It is warm enough in March to begin feeding syrup – but be careful lest ye aggravate swarming later.

The appearance of drone brood in March signals the beginning of the reproductive season – splitting or queen rearing may begin when drone brood is at the purple eye stage.

April

Beekeeping begins in earnest by April – you should be doing regular inspections to monitor hive conditions.  We are frost free many years by the 15th most years by May 1.

Early blooms such as fruit trees make ample forage available when the weather is fair – but hives can still starve during extended cold or rainy weather, because large amounts of brood can quickly eat through all available stores.  But his becomes increasingly unlikely as April progresses.  Swarms however become increasingly more likely throughout the month.

Wax/comb production ramps up in April.

Our main flow consisting of black locust and tulip poplar may begin later in the month.

Main beekeeping tasks are to keep supers going on, and try to prevent swarming.  You might even try to collect a few swarms.  April is a great time to make splits or begin rearing queens.

If you are a beginner – April or May  is probably when you will get and install your bees – hereafter known as the happiest day of your life.

May

May is normally when our main honey flow happens – If you and your hives aren’t ready to take advantage of it by May 1 you are going to miss it.  Everything blooms in May.   Hive populations will be at or near maximum.

You should be doing inspections, supering, swarm management, making increase – all of the fun, hard work of beekeeping this month.  BTW – do you know how to tell if a hive has swarmed or not?

Beginners – feed 1-1 syrup as long as they will take it, give them a new box when all but 2 frames are drawn out, and do your inspections!

June

By the middle of June the honey flow has usually tapered off quite a lot, and the danger of swarming should be about over if you have done your part so far.  There will still be a few flowers around but the large populations of bees will be working the last of them harder and harder – for ever smaller rewards.  Wax/comb production will decline to very little during June.  And robbing will begin.  Honey will be capped and cured during this month and harvesting may begin.  Try to prevent robbing and be vigilant about queenlessness.  When hives do become queenless you will need to be prepared to introduce a new queen.

Beginners – continue to  feed 1-1 syrup as long as they will take it, give them a new box when all but 2 frames are drawn out, and do your inspections!  If your new hive completely fills two hive bodies with drawn comb, brood and bees – congratulations you can consider splitting them to make more hives!

July

July is time to harvest Honey in TN – it is ready by now if it ever will be, and you need to get it off of hives so that you can treat for Varroa mites.  The market for local honey is quite good in our area with prices as high as $18 per quart in good sales locations – don’t undersell your hard earned honey!  Advertise for free on LSN or on our club website Local Honey page or on other internet local honey sites.

July is robbing season in Mid TN – so take all precautions to avoid setting it off.  It is also SHB and Varroa mite season – so do your inspections, and try to keep your hives strong and healthy.  Plan to complete varroa treatments before August 15 to insure that the fall build up can proceed with healthy bees.  It may be too hot for MAQS – formic acid – to be safely used so consider Apiguard (naturally occuring mitacide) which actually works better when it is hot – but requires more than one treatment, or Apivar – amitraz synthetic – which only requires one but leaves synthetic chemical residue in the hive.  You just have to learn about them and choose your poison.

Brood rearing is usually considerably curtailed during July and August because the normally hot dry conditions result in a dearth of nectar – although pollen may remain plentiful.

Big strong hives may be quite aggressive – wear your veil when in the bee yard.

 

First year beekeepers may need to continue to feed in order to get hives sufficiently built out – especially if you already made splits – but beware of  robbing if you are in the vicinity of any other bee hives.  Be careful not to spill feed and keep entrances as small as possible – refrain from using honey-bee-healthy or other “feeding stimulants” at this time, because they aggravate robbing.   Consider fitting your hives with robber screens.

You may consider moving hives and resources around a bit in order to equalize hive sizes and strengths – this activity can continue until mid fall, but it is best done in moderate steps.

According to Ed Holcomb – Requeen  between July 10 and August 21  if your existing queen has already performed through one or more intensive brood production periods.   It is important that your queen is performing at her peak potential during the fall build up.  Without a strong hive population going into winter it will be impossible to build up sufficiently to exploit the short nectar flow that is available in the south.

Some people believe that Queens which are mated after the summer solstice – Around June 22 – perform especially well during fall build up because of the shorting of the days at that time.  It seems to possibly be true.

August

Other than keeping an eye on things and completing mite treatments by the 15th there isn’t a lot to do this month.   Hive populations fall off.  Robbing continues with any nectar source getting mobbed by out of work foragers.

September

Brood production restarts in early September – usually there are some small but unreliable nectar flows which end by late month even in a good year.

Evaluate all hives early in the month, and combine, shake out or requeen any which are lagging.  Cut your your losses now before you have fed and babied lackluster hives for months only to have them fail over the winter – or fail to be productive in the spring.

Start feeding light hives 2-1 heavy syrup until they put on sufficient weight to overwinter on.

October

Remove any excess frames or supers – reduce hives down to the size that you want them to be for winter.  Continue feeding light hives.  Brood production and hive populations will continue to diminish.

Do your last inspections while the weather is fair – try not to set off robbing when you open hives.  Options are limited if you find any hives that are in trouble.  Killing frost usually happens in late October.

Install mouse guards and configure hives for winter – top ventilation – but don’t accidentally open up a back door for robbers or wax moths.

November

Not much to do this month.  Hopefully you have fed all hives so that they have sufficient stores to last until spring.  Brood rearing and foraging activity will continue through this month – some pollen, but little if any nectar available.  Brood production will pretty much be over by Thanksgiving.

December

December actually usually has quite a lot of fair weather here in the South.  Watch the weather predictions and plan to do a varroa mite treatment on one of those fair weather days.  You can do this last treatment any time after brood is no longer present in the hives – usually by Thanksgiving.  Oxalic acid – either vapor or trickle – can be done almost any time regardless of the temp.  MAQS requires a day warm enough for the bees to fan – preferably 2-3 in a row.  OA vapor doesn’t even require opening the hive.

If you plan to do Mt Camp sugar as an insurance action after you do your mite treatment is the ideal time.

Our Beekeeping Schedule by the major blooms

Posted in Honey Bee How to, Learn about Bee Keeping, Short Course | 1 Comment