Bee Keeping in February

The first thing that Cookeville TN area Bee Keepers need to do in February is plan to attend our regular meeting on Thursday February 2nd – TTU South hall – chat and mingle from 6:00 with the meeting beginning at 6:30 PM.

H.L. Foust  of Sunrise Apiaries in Cumberland county – purveyor of bees and beekeeping supplies will be our guest speaker at this meeting.

We will also be taking orders at the February  meeting for package bees, so bring your check books.  Eligible new bee keepers will be able to find out more about the TBA hive grant program as well.

In the Apiary this Month –

  • As always, don’t let them starve!  Add sugar, candy or fondant if needed.
  • Begin or continue feeding pollen substitute if this is part of your plan – once you start don’t stop until weather and natural pollen allow the bees to provide for their selves.
  • Sometime during the last third of the month you might want to  plan to reverse hive bodies if you have a dual brood box system – but only if all of the brood is in the top box! If brood is split between two boxes when you reverse you will “split the brood nest” and cause a lot of potentially fatal stress.  Obviously you have to inspect the hives to accomplish this – so watch the weather forecast for a a suitable day.  Not everyone does this manipulation, but the purpose of it is to attempt to prevent swarming.
  • Plan to add honey supers around March 15 – so arrange for that woodenware soon!

See you at the meeting!

Bee Keeping in January

granulated sugar being fed directly to honey bees using the mountain camp method
One of the safest and easiest ways to provide emergency food to your bees is the so called "Mountain Camp" method - granulated sugar placed right on top of the frames. A feed shim or empty super can be used to make room for the feed.

At the last meeting it was mentioned that we need to do a better job of talking about what bee keepers need to be doing in the near future instead of what should have been done last month.  So-

First of all Plan to attend the regular January Meeting on Thursday January 5, 2012 @ 6:30 pm –  TTU South hall.

You might think that there isn’t very much for a bee keeper to do in January, and there is a certain amount of truth to that, however…

As you know here in mid TN we can have nice weather almost any time – on one of those sunny days when the bees are flying and the temps are in the 50s take a quick peak into the top of your hives – no need to use smoke, but do wear a veil.  Does it look too wet?  If so you probably need more ventilation. Is the cluster all the way at the top?  You might need to feed candy or dry sugar.  Don’t stress your bees by opening the hive too much or too long, but a quick peak on a nice day won’t hurt.

Don’t let your bees starve! There was very little nectar produced in our area this fall and if you have any doubts about the stores that your bees have you can still feed them – dry sugar is one of the easiest ways to provide emergency food.  This subject was covered in the Oct 2011 Kelley newsletter.

Speaking of the Kelley Newsletter – sign up for it – it’s a great source of that “what to do this coming month” information that was previously mentioned and will hit your inbox just in time to use it. There are several very fine beekeeping resources on the web where you can find or get your questions answered just about any time – just fire up the Google and type in “bee keeping” or even “why did my bees swarm?”  Great entertainment on a cold winter day. You-tube has many informative videos as well.

Some people feed pollen substitute in the form of patties or candy beginning about the middle of January to stimulate a quick and early spring build up.  Educate yourself before deciding to do this, and once you start you need to keep it up until the weather and nectar flows are consistently good – or else all that brood you stimulate will eat your hive out of house and home and they may all starve in April. Personally – I had good results feeding Mega-Bee (from Kelley) made into candy last year.

If you are interested in buying any package bees NOW is the time to take action on that – soon they will all be spoken for, and you won’t be able to get them until the Spring season is well underway.

Now is also the time to get together the equipment you will need next year.  If you started with bees last year and your bees did pretty good you will probably need more room for them. Don’t wait until your hives are full of honey or your bees are about to swarm to try to find (and assemble) frames and supers to fit your hive setup.  If things go well you might need a stack of supers taller than you are – plan ahead.  Also seriously consider buying or building an extra hive setup – or a nuc – so that you have some options in case you get the chance to catch a swarm, or need to make a split to prevent one.  If the warm weather we are having continues you might need that equipment sooner than you thing – Like in February.  Don’t wait.

Just a heads up – late February/March  is when the swarming process can start – about the time you see dandelions in bloom. In April when you see queen cells in your hives, and a cloud of bees flying around the train has already left the station, so plan to deal with it before it starts by reversing hive bodies, adding supers, checkerboarding, splitting or some other means depending upon your available resources.

See you at the meeting!


Easy Mouse Guard

This video from Germany (I think) is showing robber bees crowding in through a little hole above the regular entrance. It also shows a really simple way to attach hardware cloth mouse guards using push pins.

I did a spot inspection today and my bees were robbing like mad. Trying to anyway. Every hive I checked still has at least some brood – in one I even saw quite a few eggs. But they all seem to be well stocked up for winter – so I’m finished feeding sugar syrup for the year.

After Thanksgiving I will be putting small hives on top of big hives with double screen boards between, and applying sugar or candy to all of them to serve as emergency stores.

That’s about all I can do for a while other than wish them luck.

We will be voting for new officers at the next meeting – so plan to come or we might elect you in absentia.

Home Remedies for Honey Bee Maladies

A very populous hive of bees
The white material is what remains of an Essential Oil pad after a few days.

Before I step out on a limb I should first tell you that the USDA approved way of treating your bee hives for mites and diseases is to use a USDA/EPA approved treatment which has been scientifically tested and approved for those applications – which are produced of course by the nice folks in the  agricultural chemical/pharmaceutical complex  who produce the ag chemicals that get sprayed on crop fields next to your apiary.

The regimen that I am going to tell you about here may not even work.   The main reason that I think it does work is that since I started keeping bees in 2009 I have yet to lose a single hive (other than a few small, weak, queenless mating nucs – which have secumbed to hive beetles) to any parasite or disease.  I over wintered 10 hives last year – all of which were strong in the spring, and produced my first ever honey crop this year.  There may well be some other factors at work and they may all die tomorrow –  So use your own judgment.  However, I’m not alone in using these concoctions – other people also report success using similar mixtures and methods.  In addition to these home remedies I also apply an organic acid treatment in December when hives are pretty much broodless.

Essential Oils are produced by plants as a defense mechanism – basically to prevent animals, insects, and perhaps microbes from eating them.  Some essential oils have been scientifically proven to be effective mitacides (toxic to mites, such as varroa and tracheal mites) – for example thymol the active ingredient in Apiguard (a Commercial product used to combat varroa mites) is the main aromatic in essential oil of the herb thyme.  You can get essential oils right off of the shelf at your local health food store.

These substances may work in any of several ways – When bees eat them or feed them to larva their hemolymph (bee blood) may become toxic to mites that feed on them.  In brood the mite reproduction process may be suppressed when larva have been fed some essential oils.  Essential oils may be physically applied to the mites during grooming or by bee house keeping activities.  The smell of the essential oils may also repel mites or interfere with their ability to home in on their food sources – brood and adult bees.

You should also know that there may be some downsides to using essential oils on your bees – either home brewed or commercial preparations.  Essential oils (or any medication, or dietary supplement for that matter) may have a negative impact on beneficial bee hive flora and fauna, they may also interfere with the bees ability to communicate or interact by their sense of smell.  I don’t know of any studies that have been done on that, but I have heard those points speculated by people who know more about it than I do.  Also, the concentration of active ingredients (such as thymol) are not really regulated in these products like they would be in pharmaceuticals – so it may not be as exact as a commercial preparation would be.

Thyme Oil Pads

  • 1 ounce (30 ml) essential oil of thyme (both red and white thyme will work)
  • 130 ml food grade mineral oil
  • 15 heavy paper towels folded in quarters.

These are simply paper towels folded twice and soaked in a mixture of 30 ml (one ounce) of essential oil of thyme (red or white – doesn’t matter) and 130 ml of food grade mineral oil (sold in pharmacies and dollar stores for use as a laxative).  I mix the oil right in a mineral oil bottle that I have marked with a pen at 130 ml – then add a whole 1 ounce bottle of Essential oil of thyme.  According to my calculation this results in about a 3.5% thymol mixture.   Quarter fold 15 paper towels and put them in a zip lock bag, add the oil mixture to the bag and kneed it a bit to get them all nice and oily.  Tip – Some food products (splenda) come in zip lock mylar bags that are much more oil resistant than regular baggies.

Lay one of these right on top of the brood frames.  The bees will shred the paper and carry it out of the colony over the course of a few weeks.  This doesn’t seem to cause any adverse effects – queen or brood mortality.  Right now – August – would be a good time to use this method in advance of the fall build up.  Following up in two weeks with a second application – after currently capped brood has emerged – would probably be a good idea.

Less than $1.50 per application.

Essential Oil Feeding Stimulant with Thyme Oil

You can use this as a feeding stimulant whenever there is no danger that it will end up in honey that you will  harvest – and in theory the essential oils will end up in the bees and brood, and might mitigate mite problems.   It will also help to prevent feed syrup from fermenting or growing mold.

This recipe will keep for a long time, and can be used to treat 80 gallons of feed.  You can make more than 4 batches out of 1 ounce bottles of essential oil.  About 12 cents per gallon of treated feed.

  • 7.2 ml essential oil of lemon grass
  • 7.2 ml essential oil of spearmint
  • 3.6 ml essential oil of thyme
  • 1 teeny tiny drop of soy lecithin to make oil and water mix – emulsifier in other words
  • Sugar syrup to make 1/2 gallon.

This recipe will keep for a long time, and can be used to treat 80 gallons of feed.  You can make more than 4 batches out of 1 ounce bottles of essential oil – and over half of the thyme will be left over.

Measuring small amounts like this can be easily done using a veterinary syringe that is available from the farmers co-op or Tractor supply store.  You can also use an “eye” dropper if it has a graduated volume marked on it.  I use a graduated shot glass to measure the mixture into gallons of feed syrup as I make it.

Don’t be fooled by the small amounts of essential oils – they are really strong, and the amounts in the bill of ingredients are not typos.

First mix up some sugar syrup by putting 5 pounds of sugar in a gallon jug, fill with hot tap water and shake until all of the sugar dissolves – then top it off with water.  This results in a mixture that is a bit more than 1-1 sugar/water.  Mix the essential oils and lecithin in a 1/2 gallon jug – the clear plastic ones that juice comes in are more durable than milk jugs.  Fill it about 1/2 full with sugar syrup, shake to mix, then top up with sugar syrup. If you see a yellow waxy substance float to the top – that is excess lecithin, don’t worry about it.  If you see oil float to the top, add a bit more lecithin and continue mixing.  It should look (and smells) about like lemonade.

Shake well before mixing this concentrated mixture with sugar syrup feed at the rate of:

  • 1.6 oz to one gallon of syrup
  • 1 cup to five gallons of syrup

One caution though, using any “feeding stimulant” which contains lemon grass oil (such as Honey-Bee-Healthy) can aggravate robbing.  The bees can smell it, and they really like it – so be careful when there is a danger of robbing.  Like July and August for example.  Unfortunately late summer and fall are probably the best time to use something like this – just be careful, reduce hive entrances, and keep an eye on weak hives.

One can get in trouble (and rightfully so) by making unsubstantiated claims about the effectiveness of “alternative” remedies.  However the only way to legally substantiate those claims is to perform expensive scientific research – which is usually funded by someone who expects to profit from the sale of the substance in question.  One problem with this system is that if a potential remedy is not likely to be profitable (because it is already cheap and freely available for example) no one is likely to spend the large amounts required to do that research.  The result is that there may be safe, effective, inexpensive ways to treat things, but you have to be really careful about making any claims about their effectiveness.  “Dietary Supplements” are a great example.  The Red Yeast Rice pills that our doctor told my wife “might” be worth trying for her blood pressure (and seem to work) can’t say “for the treatment of high blood pressure” on the box, and doctors even have to be careful about how they talk about it.  Even if it really does work.

So all I’m saying is that these things might work.  They also might not.

Decapping Honey with a Heat Gun

I just ran across that video and thought that it might be interesting to some.  According to discussion on a beekeepers forum surface tension draws the melted cappings open so that your honey can be extracted without heating the honey or tearing up the combs – also without the wasted honey, wax and mess of the usual way of knife decapping.  Might be worth a try.



Are My Bees Swarming?

Help! My bees are SWARMING! Well, maybe they are – bees do that, and it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, if what they are doing looks like this video, they are not swarming, they are orienting, and it’s completely normal for them to orient any (or every) nice afternoon this time of year. Your queen can lay thousands of eggs a day. So once she gets rolling that means that on any given day all of the eggs that were layed about 3 weeks earlier hatch out. Those bees hang out, clean house, feed babies for two or three more weeks – and then they all leave the nest to start gathering nectar. Since they have never been out of the hive before, the first thing they do is fly around and get their bearings. It sure looks like they might all be getting together to leave for good. But they don’t – usually.

A swarm puts a lot of bees in the air too, and it could be hard to tell the beginnings of a swarm from an orientation, but here’s the thing – once a swarm gets to this point you can stop worrying. The train has already left the station. As a matter of fact, swarm preparations start weeks before the actual swarm, and can be very difficult to stop.

Experienced bee keepers remove queen cells to prevent swarms, but unless you KNOW what you are doing you can cause a hive to become hopelessly queenless by removing cells.

A hive swarms because it is healthy and has lots of bees, brood and food – it is how honey bee colonies reproduce. The swarm will leave behind a hive that is full of food, brood, plenty of adult workers, and queen cells which will soon hatch out into new virgin queens. About 3 weeks later more or less one of those queens will be mated, and you should be able to spot brood.

If you have a hive which you think has swarmed, and you have another hive, it is a good thing to give the queenless hive a frame of mixed brood once a week until you know it has a mated queen. Even if you plan to requeen it with a store bought queen it may be best to let them make a new one first or there is a very good chance that your new expensive queen will be killed because the hive already has a virgin or newly mated queen.

It's too hot inside - these bees are only bearding. It does not mean that they are going to swarm.

This time of year bees do things like orientation flights, and bearding on the outside of the hive that makes new bee keepers worry that they are about to swarm – which they might – but it isn’t a disaster if they do. It’s just time to be a bee KEEPER instead of just a bee HAVER.

What Should I Do Now?!!

Honey bees bearding in hot weather
Are these bees going to swarm? Probably not. First year package hives usually don't swarm unless you completely neglect to give them room.

When the weather gets hot your bees might hang out on the outside of the hive – this is commonly called “bearding”  it doesn’t mean that they are going to swarm – even when it’s as extreme as in the picture above.  It just means that it’s hot and they would rather be outside of that hot little box than inside of it.   It isn’t really a good thing though either.  If you have a screened bottom board and you haven’t already, then you should go ahead and remove the mite count sticky board and leave it out for at least the rest of the summer – if not always.  Keep it though because you might want to use it to do a mite count.  It will probably stow inside of your telescoping cover.  Also open up the entrance some – if not all the way.

When you remove the sticky board you might see what looks like maggots infesting the debris on the board – I don’t know exactly what they are, they could be Small hive beetle larva or they could just be fly larva of some kind.  Just dump them away from your hives or feed them to your chickens.  I’ve seen them under some of my hives too, and once you get rid of them it doesn’t seem to be a problem.

If you started your hive in March with a package from Wolf Creak like many of us did, you also probably need to go ahead and add a second box of foundation.  If 7 out of 10 or 6 out of 8 frames are mostly drawn then it’s time to add more room.

You also might want to add some Small Hive Beetle traps – there are lots of different traps, but a really simple one that works is to just put 3-4″ squares of coreplast – AKA old political signs –  in your hive.  On the top bars and on the bottom board.  The bees will drive beetles into the tunnels in the plastic and you can remove them once a week when you inspect – just drop them into a coffee can with some oil in it to drown the beetles.  The trap on the bottom board will be more convenient to put in and out if you put a long piece of wire through it to act as a handle so that you can just put it in and out of the entrance without removing the bottom hive body – that will also help to keep the bees from pushing it out of the hive.  There is wide agreement that the best way to combat beetles in our area is to keep the hives strong – dense populations of bees – and keep them in pretty much direct sun.

If you’re still feeding your package bees sugar water they are probably taking it slowly if it all because our main nectar flow is on right now.  Plain 1-1 sugar syrup will ferment pretty quickly in this warm weather, and then the bees won’t take it at all, so if you want to continue to feed you need to use small containers that the bees will empty in 3-4 days or add some honey-b-healthy or other essential oil concoction to it to help keep it from ruining.  Be aware that you should never feed anything to your bees if there are honey supers on that you intend to harvest honey from.  Feeding new packages all season long is probably a good thing to do because you need them to draw out as much comb as possible before next fall.  Drawn comb is like gold.

If you’re a beginner you need to put on your gear and inspect your hives every week – you’re looking for either the queen, eggs, or young open brood which indicates that the queen is still there and doing her job.  You also are assessing how much food they have in the hive, and if they need more space or not.  But most of all you need to get comfortable working with your bees while the hives are new, small and relatively docile.  Later when they get built up they will be a lot more intimidating, and you need to get some experience now – no one else can do it for you.  You’ll probably make some mistakes, kill a few bees, and you’re sure to get stung sooner or later, but you probably won’t hurt them very much, and you’ll get better and more confident at it every time you go in.

Have fun!


Tips for New Beekeepers

1) Don’t get in a hurry to add another super to your new package colonies – the rule of thumb is to not add another box of new foundation until 7 out of 10 (6 out of 8 if you have 8 frame hives) of the last one are pretty much completely drawn out into comb.  If you do they probably won’t work it anyway and they will build up better with less space to heat/cool and defend.

Beautiful natural comb built on the bottom of the inner cover because a feeding shim (or empty super) was left on too long in the spring.

2) If there is any open space in the hive that is where they will build comb instead of on your foundation – bees prefer to draw comb the natural, organic way.  They will only draw foundation if there isn’t anywhere else for them to build comb.  So, always fill all available space with frames –  don’t leave out frames for any reason, and don’t add empty hive bodies to the hive for any reason unless there is some barrier to keep the bees where they belong.

3) Other than checking to see that the queen has been released try to refrain from pestering them for about a week.

4) Try to inspect your hives in the middle of the day (between 10-2 more or less) and only in reasonably nice weather when the bees are flying.  3 Reasons for this – A) The foragers will be out at work and there will be fewer bees home and it will be easier to inspect. B) If you remove frames of brood when it is cool and/or windy you might chill the brood and kill it. C) Opening a hive too late in the day makes it more likely that you will be attacked – especially at night. And despite what you might think, if you really make them mad you can get stung even if you are suited up.

5) Don’t fret too much about your new package colony getting over crowded and swarming.  Packages almost never swarm during their first spring because they lack the combination of conditions that triggers swarming.  If they do good you can worry about swarming in a couple of months if you want to, but it really isn’t too likely until next spring – when it might be hard to prevent.

6) Feed continuously for the next few weeks –  if you are administering Fumigilin don’t stop until the dose is used up.

7) If they aren’t doing anything on these cool rainy days it’s OK – don’t open the hive to check on them, you will just let all of the heat out.

More Natural Bee Keeping

new foundationless comb with brood

The presenters at our January meeting were John Seaborn of Wolf Creek Apiaries and Trevor Qualls of Bon Aqua Springs Apiaries and Woodenware.  Natural beekeeping was the subject of the evening – and we really appreciate the contribution of their time and knowledge to our group.  If you need equipment be sure and check out Trevor’s line of innovative locally produced honey bee woodenware.

Not all that long ago you could have a couple of beehives out back for years without paying very much attention to them other than putting supers on in the spring and harvesting honey in the fall, but that is not usually the case any more.

Our honey bees are native to Europe (not America) while varroa mites were probably imported from Asia and Small Hive Beetles came from Africa – no telling where tracheal mites, foulbrood, and nosema originated.  We don’t even know what CCD is yet. But by bringing all of these elements together we may have made it impossible for Apis mellifera to live independently in the wild.

Chemical free, natural, treatment free, organic,  freedom from buying and applying expensive (perhaps toxic)  time consuming treatments to our bees – while producing large crops of wholesome, healthy honey and other hive products – Sounds great, but unfortunately, this very worthwhile goal has become much more elusive because of the globalization of diseases and parasites.

None the less – it is not necessary to constantly douse your bee hives with chemical pesticides – but you probably do have to do something.  “Treatment free” does not mean doing nothing – it means using a different set of cultural practices.

“More Natural” beekeeping include the following:

Integrated Pest Management – such as using screened bottoms to allow mites to fall out of the hive.  Also, drone brood removal, and powdered sugar treatments.  One of Januaries presenters mentioned a neat trick for drone brood removal – putting a frame or two of a smaller than usual size in the brood nest will usually cause drone brood to be built on the bottom of the frame where it can easily be removed during inspections.

Because varroa favor drone brood to reproduction in you can use drone foundation like this to attract varroa and then remove them - along with drone brood - from the hive.

Summer Splits – “Walkaway” splitting (alowing them to make their own queen instead of furnishing one) causes a period of broodlessness which in itself  interupts the varroa life cycle, and also is an excellent opportunity to administer other treatments while all of the mites are phoretic – riding adult bees instead of inside of capped brood.  Since in our area early nectar flows mostly end (except for sourwood) by July 1st splitting after that point does not interfere much (if any) with honey production.

Natural Cell or Foundationless – allowing bees to build whatever size cells they want without furnishing any foundation.  Note that this is not the same as small cell.  Natural cell bees may never “regress” to 4.9 mm size worker brood comb, but they will build the size that is natural to them.  The effectiveness of natural cell is controversial – but it can’t hurt.

Small Cell bee keeping – In actual small cell culture bees are furnished with special small cell (such as 4.9) brood foundation to force them to “regress” to a smaller size.  A number of beekeepers – including some very reputable ones – swear that this is the magic bullet for bee health, but it remains quite controversial with at least some empirical studies refuting it’s effectiveness.  The package bees that we have ordered from Wolfe creek are small cell bees, but unless installed into hives with small cell foundation they will revert to a larger size.  If interested you can get small cell foundation from Kelley bee supplies – the only source that I know of.

Essential oils – naturally occurring in plants some EO have been proven to be useful in managing honey bee pests – the only commercially available product that I know of is Apiguard which uses thymol (a constituent of EO of the herb thyme) as the active ingredient to treat for varroa.  Other EO treatments may be – and probably are – effective, but without USDA/EPA approval as pesticides they can be used, but may not be marketed as pesticides.

Genetically resistant bees – the holy grail, often spoken of, but rarely seen.  If you know where they can be obtained, please let me know.  Seriously there is a movement to utilize “locally adapted” queens instead of those produced by queen factory farms hundreds or thousands of miles away.  Learn to produce your own queens or get them from someone locally who does.

Sustainable Apiary – Another reality of bee keeping is that you will sometimes lose hives – most often over the winter.  A way to cope with this fact is to make increase by splitting some hives, and perhaps producing your own queens, and going into winter with some extras.

Natural bee keeping is a huge subject, and probably the best way to learn about it is with the internet, but where ever you get your information be prepared to use your own judgment as you formulate your own plan of action.

Putnam County Beekeepers Association Founding Meeting

37 Putnam county Tennessee area beekeepers (and future beekeepers) met tonight in Cookeville TN to found a bee keepers association.  Proposed By-Laws were distributed and a second meeting was scheduled for 6:00 PM Thursday Dec. 9 to be held in South hall on the Tennessee Tech Cookeville campus – room to be announced.  Anyone who is interested is encouraged to attend.

Based upon a show of hands about half of us present tonight  already have bees – from a few hives to at least one person with over 100 hives.  Those who are just getting started should have lots of opportunities to benefit from associating with more established beekeepers, and everyone can  profit from the diversity of talents and ideas – as well as the buying power – of an association.

As more information becomes available it will be posted here, but I would like to encourage everyone to sign up for the email notifications by entering your email address in the box located near the top right corner of this web page.  I promise that your email will not be redistributed or abused in any way.

Beginning beekeepers – or anyone who is thirsty for more information about bees –  might want to check out this excellent article from the University of Missouri “Beekeeping Tips for Beginners” or  one of the online forums such as Beesource.  Another great source of information about “natural” beekeeping is Bush Bees.  With any source of online information be prepared to exercise your own judgment – especially on forums.

Something that was mentioned tonight was the fact that Walter T. Kelly bee company in Kentucky is offering free shipping for orders placed only on the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving.  The saving can be substantial so think about taking advantage, but if you aren’t ready to order yet there may be  similar opportunities after Christmas.

Someone asked how much it would cost to get into bee keeping – answered as being something like $2-300 per hive.  I would like to comment that while that certainly would be true if you use all new store bought equipment, it does not have to cost that much, but you probably will have to spend some money to get started.  Don’t be discouraged by that just yet – there are ways to considerably reduce your start up costs.  I started 2 years ago with about $100 invested in equipment and some sweat equity – so it can be done.

Please leave comments to ask questions, or to express what you would like to get out of this association.