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.

Making increase will be the subject of discussion at the May 3, 2018, meeting of the Cookeville Beekeepers Association.

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

Like every other living thing, honey bees have the ability to make more bees.  But instead of assisting 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 likely 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 we need to be routinely doing it every year.  No beekeeper should be routinely buying bees every spring.

Maybe you have tried splitting before and for some reason, the results were discouraging – splitting does fail 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 of beekeeping.  And so you can stop buying bees.

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 arrange 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, and drones for her to mate with.*  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, and new hives can more easily feed their selves.  But, hives can be split any time there are drones available.

When is it Too Late to split and make a new queen?  Technically a queenless colony will be able to make a new queen any time that there are drones available for mating – so you might be able to split in late September.  But this is not at all recommended for several reasons – it is certainly working against nature, and will be much harder to pull off successfully.  Most queen producers sell their last batch of queens in early September – or sooner.   Personally, I would say that August 1st is the practical deadline for starting the process of producing a queen.   And actually, such late summer queens which start laying in earnest around Sept 1 are often outstanding performers and produce tons of brood for the critical fall build up.   In general though, sooner is better than later.

 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 ensure that there will be plenty of fresh nectar and pollen available.
  • 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 beehive 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.

***********************************************************

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.

***********************************************************

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 queenright 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.

 

Varroa Mite Management Options for Honey Bees

This article was originally published in November 2013, but contains seasonally relevant information. In other words – It is time to treat your bees for varroa mites.

“You need to be doing something proactive to deal with mites whether you treat or not.” (paraphrased) Kaymon Reynolds – treatment free beekeeper for 10 years.

This post is intended to present the available options for varroa mite management in as factual and unvarnished form as is possible

 

Life Cycle of Varroa Mites – Thanks to Tony Linka for permission to use this excellent illustration.

This article was originally published in November 2013, but contains seasonally relevant information.  In other words – It is time to treat your bees for varroa mites.

“You need to be doing something proactive to deal with mites whether you treat or not.”  (paraphrased) Kaymon Reynolds – treatment free beekeeper for 10 years.

This post is intended to present the available options for varroa mite management in as factual and unvarnished form as is possible – and is not intended as an endorsement of any particular technique.   This information is only intended to inform.  Any apparent bias or spin is unintentional – but probably inevitable what with me being human and all.  I highly recommend that you educate yourself on whatever path you choose to take – and don’t be too quick to completely believe anything you hear from any one source.

  • Varroa infestation is a major factor in many hive failures.
  • Hives which seem to have failed from queenlessness, wax moths, hive beetles, robbing, absconding, or even starvation may actually have mites as a root cause of their eventual demise.
  • Beekeepers often do not detect mites or spot symptoms of Parasitic Mite Syndrome until it is extremely advanced.
  • Varroa mites vector viral diseases while also sapping the strength of the parasitized individual bees – resulting in “sick hives” which fail to thrive and often eventually collapse.  Collapsing hives are usually robbed out which can spread both mites and associated diseases to the robbing colonies.
  • Queens are not immune to these viral diseases – non-lethal viral infections of queens can be a cause of poor brood production and supersedure – either of which may result in colony failure.
  • Ignoring the varroa mite problem and failing to manage it in some way will almost always result in catastrophic colony loss.
  • Treatment Free beekeeping and just hoping for the best while doing nothing are NOT the same things.
Queens are not immune to varroa infestation and the diseases that mites carry.

Timing of Treatments

  • If you are going to treat for varroa mites timing is important.
  • You should not treat when honey supers are on hives – April-July.  Some treatments are actually approved for use when supers are on, but in order to preserve the public faith in our product, it is important that beekeepers avoid the very appearance of evil.  Don’t treat or feed your hives when honey supers are on.
  • It is important that mite populations be low before and during the fall brood build up – September – Mid November.  Without management, this is when mite levels usually peak.
  • Hives which have large mite loads going into winter are likely to fail before spring.
  • TN State Apiary experts recommend a late winter / early spring treatment – Late Feb – Early March.
  • It is often recommended by treatment manufacturers that only strong hives be treated (some treatments can be stressful) so it is important to treat before hive health is in decline.
  • Hives are generally broodless during Late November – Early December.  Treating during this period will be maximally effective.
  • If you wait until symptoms of varroa infestation become apparent colony health will already be compromised.
  • Effective treatments which are properly applied during the correct times and conditions will greatly improve colony survival and performance.  Improperly applied treatments performed at the wrong time on weakened colonies may be worse than doing nothing.
  • In summary, the key times to treat are: July/August before the fall brood build up starts.  November/December during the broodless period before winter.  February/March before the honey season starts.
Is your skin crawling yet?

The Hard/Soft chemical fallacy

  • People often refer to synthetic miticides as “Hard” chemicals and naturally occurring ones as “Soft.”  In some ways, this characterization is the opposite of the truth.
  • During the treatment period ,synthetic treatments are often less likely to cause bee mortality or queen loss. Care must be taken with some so-called “Soft” treatments to prevent killing bees or causing hives to abscond. Some of the “Soft” treatments are extremely temperature dependent – too cool and it doesn’t work, too warm and it kills bees.
  • The effective synthetics are able to kill a high percentage of mites in the hive because they are time released or remain effective long enough to kill mites which are inside of capped brood at the initial treatment time.  Naturally occurring treatments do not all have this advantage – some require repeated applications at specific time periods to be effective.
  • Any treatment is most effective if used when hives are broodless.
  • Synthetics may leave long-lasting / permanent residues in the hive – especially in wax.  These residues seem to cause fertility problems for both queens and drones, and detractors speculate that they may be factors in long-term hive health problems.  ** Naturally occurring miticides such as formic acid or thymol do not leave long-lasting residues in hives – but if not carefully applied they can kill bees during treatment.
  • Mites have developed a resistance to some synthetics which has made them ineffective in most cases – Apistan for example – but because they have fallen out of favor and are used much less frequently now, there are some reports that low and behold they sometimes work well for occasional use.  They are however still implicated in health compromising long lasting hive residues.

Rotate Treatments

No matter which treatments you decide to use to prevent mites from developing resistance  it is probably best if you don’t get in the habit of always using the same one all the time.

 EPA regulated Synthetic mite treatments 

  • Apivar/amitraz – currently reported to be extremely effective.  One application of 2 strips required. About $6.00 per treatment. No evidence of resistance after more than 15 years – no application temp recommended (that I know of)  Apivar Instructions and Info
  • Apistan/fluvalinate – Mites have developed a resistance to this treatment in many areas – but it may be effective for limited use because it has widely fallen out of favor.
  • Checkmite/coumaphos – Mites have developed a resistance to this treatment in many areas – but it may be effective for limited use because it has widely fallen out of favor.
  • Randy Oliver on Synthetic Treatments

EPA regulated naturally occurring mite treatments

  • Miteaway Quick Strips / formic acid ***– can kill mites inside of capped brood as well as phoretic mites – Only 1 treatment required.  Requires careful application with attention to temp and hive strength to avoid bee and brood mortality – can result in queen loss if miss used. Daytime Temp of 50 – 90 F specified on day of treatment, but bee/brood mortality increases with temp. $4.70 per treatment. Miteaway Instructions
  • Apilife Var / Thymol and other EO – Very safe time release delivery.  Requires 3 treatments to be effective if brood is present – Use when average daytime temps are between 59 and 69 F.  About $3.65 per treatment. Apilife Instructions
  • Apiguard / thymol ***– Safe, low bee or brood mortality – but does cause bearding and interruption of brood rearing for a few days.  Requires 2 applications at warm to high temperatures – 60 /100° F.  Requires a spacer – About $3.60 per treatment. Apiguard Instructions
  • Hop Guard – Not approved in TN.
  • Oxalic Acid – oxalic acid has now been approved by the EPA for treating honey bees.  At this time the only EPA source of Bee-approved oxalic acid is Brushy mountain bee farm.

 Treatments which are effectively not regulated by the EPA but which are known to be work

  • Powdered Sugar Dusting – 30 / 50% effective only on phoretic mites, can cause death of open brood by simply gumming it up. Scientific Beekeeping
  • Essential Oils – EO of Thyme and  EO of Spearmint are known to be effective as miticides – appropriate dosages and methods of application have been widely experimented with by beekeepers but are difficult to specify. Several commercial products such as Honey-bee-healthy and Mann Lake Pro Health contain these ingredients, but because of EPA guidelines can not be labeled or specifically recommended for varroa management.  ******Drenching with Honey-bee-healthy as per label directions is probably the varroa treatment method that the researchers would like to recommend if they could.
  • ****** Oxalic Acid – Oxalic acid is a naturally occurring organic acid which quickly breaks down and leaves no residue in hives. OA is a widely used government approved mite treatment in the rest of the world, and now in the U.S.  OA is safe, effective, cheap and not temperature dependant.  OA causes little if any bee / brood mortality. OA does not kill mites inside of capped brood if dribbled or vaporized, so it is most effective when used on broodless hives.  Research is now being done by Randy Oliver and others to develop an effective time release method that will be more effective on hives with brood.   Since OA is widely used abroad dosages and application methods are well established.   Pennies per treatment.

 Treatment free

  • “Treatment Free” beekeeping is an often misunderstood and controversial subject on the Internet.
  • Treatment free beekeeping apparently IS possible. More beekeepers report successfully practicing treatment free beekeeping every year.
  • Essential oils and powdered sugar dusting are mite treatments – if you use these then you are not treatment free.
  • The essence of the treatment free philosophy is to not treat, let the hives which can’t hack it die, and then make increase from the remaining “Survivor” bees – the so-called Bond method.   In practice, it is much harder than it sounds, and many beginners who take this overly simplistic approach fail utterly and lose interest in beekeeping.
  • Successful treatment free beekeeping requires bees which have the ability to survive to begin with.  There is apparently no reliable source of such bees.  You can get bees which are more resistant than others (****USDA VSH or Minnesota Hygenic queens for example) but based upon my personal experience it is quite difficult to just buy “Survivor” bees.
  • However,  BeeWeaver Apiaries in Texas have been producing treatment free queens, bees and honey  for more than 10 years now.  There are mixed reports from consumers – including some reports of aggressive bees – but that is typical for any queen producer, and apparently BeeWeaver will replace aggressive queens.   So, while this is not an endorsement they might be worth checking out if you are interested in going treatment free.
  • Making increase is probably an absolutely essential part of treatment free beekeeping.
  • If you want to try treatment free you should probably prepare for high colony losses – 50% or more in some cases.  Hopefully less, but don’t fail to plan.
  • You can probably not reasonably expect to be successful with very few colonies – larger numbers give more fault tolerance and a better gene pool.
  • Treatment free does not mean doing nothing – if anything treatment free beekeepers need to be more competent and diligent beekeepers to meet the challenges.
  • There does not seem to be a very large number of treatment free beekeepers who are able to report success beyond being able to keep their bees alive from year to year.   This  statement is not based on any kind of scientific data collection, but rather from an informal Q+A thread on beesource forum.
  • It is possible (and likely in my opinion) that some locations may not be conducive to treatment free beekeeping. Or at least that some areas may be much better than others.
  • Randy Oliver on varroa resistant bees.

Footnotes

* Outlaw Treatments – The use of any EPA-regulated insecticide in a manner or form other than that which is approved “and specified on label” by the EPA is a violation of federal law.  For example in the past commercial apiaries have been (heavily) fined for using paper towels soaked with  Mavrik (fluvalinate which is labeled for use  as an outdoor pesticide) as a mite treatment.  Even though fluvalinate is EPA approved for apiary use in the much more expensive form of Apistan (no longer effective on Varroa mites BTW) the off-label apiary use of the same chemical when packaged as Mavrik is a violation.  Non-regulated substances such as essential oils, powdered sugar, either fall through one loophole or another or exist in something of a gray area depending on how you describe their use.

** The makers of Apivar (amitraz) claim that their product “Leaves no significant residues in hive honey or wax.”  And that mites are showing no signs of resistance after 15 years of field use. The source should be taken into account when considering these claims.

*** When stinky treatments like formic acid or thymol are applied the bees will start fanning to ventilate the hive.  Weak hives may not have enough bees to do the job and may abscond or suffer losses.  Generally, these treatments are not recommended for weak hives.

**** VSH, and other breeds with hygienic behavior are not the elusive “Survivor Bees” that you might hear being mentioned – Because these traits are quickly watered down in open mating environments.  The true “survivor bees” apparently breed true enough for the trait to accumulate in the local gene pool to a useful degree during open mating.  Nonetheless, VSH is a good place to start until you can acquire some of the magic bees.

***** Other Key Management Practices for keeping Hives Healthy

  • Healthy hives are more resistant to mites and disease and more resilient when they are effected, so strive to maintain good practices.
  • Do your inspections – until you have a good bit of experience the only way to tell what your hives need is to inspect at least every 2 weeks during the season.  If you can not make time for this during your first few years you might want to reconsider your choice of hobbies.
  • Prevent Queenlessness – this is probably the number one cause of hive loss. If you don’t inspect at least every 2 weeks you often won’t have time to correct queenlessness before it is too late.
  • Don’t let your bees go hungry – bees which are suffering from malnutrition will never be healthy.  Any time that hives do not contain Plenty of both capped honey and open nectar they should be fed.  Ideally, hives would never run short of natural food, but we do not live in an ideal region for that – most years here in mid-TN bees need to be fed.
  • Prevent robbing – Robbing cause’s malnutrition, stress, and queenlessness. I highly recommend the use of robber screens.
  • Extra colonies – One hive is absolutely not sustainable – two is marginal – four or five (including nucs) is probably the minimal number of hives for a reasonably sustainable apiary.  Besides, nucleus colonies are a lot more fun than big honkin’ honey hives – everyone should keep a few nucs.
  • Having extra colonies will allow you to be more objective when deciding between cutting your losses and trying to save a failing hive.
  • Split and make increase every spring – Combine in the fall – It will make you a better beekeeper and will give you the resources that you need to recover from setbacks, and to improve your stocks.
  • Always keep some empty extra equipment on hand – assembled and ready to use – nucs, frames with foundation, supers, robber screens etc.
  • Be Prepared – procure supplies such as feed, medication, equipment before you need it.
  • Integrated Pest Management  – IPM is more or less the use of cultural practices to manage pests and minimize the use of treatments.  Key to varroa IPM is measuring mite loads on a regular and timely basis so that you know when something needs to be done instead of simply treating prophylactically on a seasonal basis.  Randy Oliver on IPM

****** Oxalic acid along with some essential oils exist in something of a limbo regarding EPA enforcement – they may be (and probably are) technically not legal to use,  but for some reason the EPA does not seem to be interested in enforcing a broad moratorium on them.  Possibly because they have bigger fish to fry, or maybe because they are taking the completely reasonable position of looking the other way for now when it comes to safe, effective treatments that don’t seem to hurt the environment, users,  or consumers.  Perhaps they have an internal  interpretation of the rules which allow their use in some cases.  Maybe they just haven’t noticed yet.  But I’m no expert so Caveat Emptor.

*******Honey-Bee-Healthy  Drench: one cup, 8 ozs (237 ml) of 1:1 Sugar Syrup with 4 tsp of HBH/qt (20 ml/l), applied 3 times, 7 days apart. We fed  bees at the same time with 10 ml of HBH per liter of 1:1 sucrose syrup.

Oxalic Acid Trickle/Dribble Treatment

Caution:  Read this – it is NOT the usual yadda yadda! – Do not mix solution until right before you are ready to apply it.  Because of a chemical reaction which takes place over the course of several days it will become poisonous to bees – use immediately and discard any unused solution by pouring it down a drain (and rinsing the container) so that neither bees or anything else can accidentally ingest it.   This sweet solution is poisonous and should be kept securely out of the reach of children and pets!

The treatment material is 3.2% oxalic acid in a 1:1 sugar solution.

  • 1 kg sugar
  • 1 L of water
  • 75 gm of oxalic acid dihydrate – wood bleach

This will make 1.67 L of treatment material – enough for 33 colonies! Obviously, with a little bit of math it can be adjusted appropriately for your needs. Accurate measurement of ingredients is essential!

If you absolutely don’t want to use a postal scale, or a cheap digital scale (plenty on the web for under $10), then an approximate dilution would be 3 tsp oxalic crystals to 5 fl. oz each of water and granulated sugar.  This will give you a bit over a cup of treated syrup, or enough to treat about 4 colonies (or 3 really strong ones).  Don’t try to mix any less, just discard the excess! – Thanks to Randy Oliver – http://scientificbeekeeping.com/oxalic-acid-treatment-table/

  1. Open the hive and remove supers if needed to get to the main cluster of bees.
  2. Fill the 50 ml syringe with solution (oxalic acid).
  3. Dribble solution on the seams of bees between the frames – distributing it as evenly as possible.

The treatment will seem very scant and you will not wet all of the bees in most cases, but that is OK and as it is supposed to be.  The bees will all work together to clean their selves, each other, and the other hive contents, and they will all get the correct oral dosage.

The 50 ML dosage is the correct size for a 10 frame deep single box colony which is of a healthy strength – if the population is smaller than this the dosage will be too high and should be adjusted accordingly.

This procedure usually takes less than a minute/hive. It is safe to carry out the treatment in cold conditions with the temperature down to 0°C. You can use warm water to make the mixture if it makes you feel better.

It is advised that this is only done when colonies are broodless for best effect and that it not be repeated.

Oxalic Acid Vaporizer

Oxalic Acid + Glycerine for timed release

 

 

 

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