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.