Weight and See

Summer is slowly winding down, and the bees have been making the most of the fine weather. They’ve been in a foraging frenzy, perhaps sensing the forthcoming temperature changes.

They’re finally visiting the goldenrod in their own yard!

It cooled down over the weekend, with rain on and off all day today. Each time the showers stop, the foraging begins again.

And yet, when we checked the hives a week or so ago, Buzzers’ Roost had no honey, and FreeBees had very little. Instead, we saw loads of pollen, lots of nectar, and a surprising amount of capped brood.

Still, with all that nectar, there’s bound to be some honey soon.

Check out the graphs below. Notice any trends?

The first two graphs show the weight of the hive over the last month — finally trending upward. The next two show a week each, and you’ll notice daily ups and downs, probably from when the foragers are out.

So, we’re not too worried about honey levels, at least not yet.

Below is a picture of a frame containing both nectar and pollen. We also found several that were filled solely with nectar or solely with pollen. Theoretically, we should be able to identify the source of the pollen by its color, but unfortunately, I’ve not found an accurate chart online. Here are links to two if you’d like to try: Sheffield Beekeepers’ Association and Metrobeekeepers.net. My guess is mostly goldenrod because the fields are full of it.

While we had the hives open, we did alcohol rolls on both. This is supposed to be a more accurate way to count Varroa.

Our count was a big fat zero on both hives.

Yeah, we must have done it wrong.

Either that or the hive beetles are eating them. Don’t even ask how many of those we found. It was too many to count.

Little bastards.

The weird thing is, the bees mostly ignore the beetles. Once in a while, they’ll herd a particularly brazen one into a corner, but then the bees go back to whatever they were doing, and the beetle scuttles away. (Unless we get it first!)

There was propolis everywhere, especially around the beetle traps, which makes me wonder if this is the bees’ response to the pests. There were a few beetle corpses in some of the propolis, so who knows?

Unfortunately, our girls don’t seem to grasp that the traps are there to help them and had propolized the openings where the beetles are meant to enter. At least one trap had every opening completely blocked.

But let’s get back back to the subject of the main hive pest — the dreaded Varroa. For two years, we’ve used drone foundation as part of Varroa control, with very little success.

Last year, the hive used the drone foundation mostly for honey.

This year, both hives have ignored them.

Until now.

This year, a few short weeks — okay, a few short months — before the workers start kicking out drones (to lower the number of mouths they have to feed in the winter), FreeBees has decided to make drone cells. Half the foundation was full of capped drone brood, and there were more cells on the top of some of the other frames.

Weird. Also unusual in placement. Drone cells are usually at the bottom of hive frames.

Whatever. It’s their hive. They can do what they want.

As we’d been instructed, we removed the drone foundation and opened the cells to check for Varroa, but found none there either.

I can’t believe there are no mites at all, but am willing, even eager, to believe the treatments have been working, and the threshold is safely low.

Just to be sure, we will treat both hives with Oxalic Acid before winter after we take off the supers.

I’m still holding out hope that we might be able to pull at least one frame of honey for ourselves.

Death Comes to Buzzers’ Roost (Again)

Dead bees are part of beekeeping, just as death is part of life. That knowledge doesn’t make it any easier to see a sight like the one below, especially when we know it was caused by our actions. (Please excuse the blurred picture. I didn’t have on my bee jacket, veil, or hat, and the girls get a little testy after this treatment.)

These bees died after we used Mite Away Quick Strips (MAQS) to treat for Varroa. You may recall my post last fall about our experience with MAQS. We had problems with Yellow Jackets raiding the hive through the wide-open front entrance although I don’t remember this many dead bees. We might have been so focused on the Yellow Jackets that we didn’t notice.

So, why use MAQS? There are several good reasons. It’s the only treatment currently available that kills mites on capped brood and the only one you can use with honey supers on the hive. More importantly, responsible beekeepers employ Integrated Pest Management (IPM) using a variety of treatments. This helps decrease the likelihood of the mites developing resistance to a particular treatment.

Our treatment plan includes MAQS, Oxalic Acid vaporizing, and drone frames. If we ever manage to get a large enough hive to split, we’ll do that too.

We also use a sticky board and sugar roll to count our mite load and plan to try an alcohol wash this season just to get an idea of how many mites the sugar method is missing.

Though it looks horrible, having this many bees die is not a tragedy, but a side-effect. It’s better than helping cause a treatment to become useless. And it’s much better than allowing the Varroa load to get high enough to cause a hive collapse .

Because when a hive collapses, the bees that survive join other hives in the area.

The mites go with them, starting the problem all over for whichever beekeeper happens to be unfortunate enough to live nearby.

For more information on IPM, visit the following sites.

Ohio State University Bee Lab

Mid-Atlantic Apicultural Research & Extension Consortium


Small Pests = Mite-y Problems

I can’t say they didn’t warn us. At our Intro to Beekeeping class, the teachers all said the Varroa Mite population would explode in the late summer and fall.

They were right. Although our sugar roll count in late August seemed borderline, our bee guru thought our bees needed treating.

On her advice, we began by putting in two drone frames and dusting the brood boxes with powdered sugar. Supposedly, the powdered sugar encourages bees to groom themselves and each other, thereby clearing away some of the mites.

Well, maybe. The sticky board count afterwards was unequivocally bad, though part of that might be due to the bees’ hygienic efforts. And our bees did build some drone comb on one board, resulting in about 15-20 capped drone cells. (If you recall, Varroa prefer drone larvae because they are larger, and their growth cycle more closely matches that of the Varroa).

FullSizeRender-21

You remember drone cells, right? They look like Kix cereal.

The important thing about using drone frames is to be sure to take it out after the cells are capped but before the bees (and Varroa) hatch.

I’m going to repeat that yet another time because it’s really, really(!) important. YOU HAVE TO REMOVE THE DRONE FRAMES AFTER THE DRONE CELLS ARE CAPPED BUT BEFORE THE BEES AND VARROA HATCH! Otherwise you have a drone population explosion. Worse, you’ve just created a Varroa bomb in your own hive.

After you remove the drone frames, you uncap the cells. Here’s what we found. See those little specks?

IMG_2741I’m pointing to one with my uncapping tool below.FullSizeRender-22

Those are Varroa Mites. They carry deadly viruses and can lead to a colony’s die-off. (Click the link for more information from MSU’s Pollinator Initiative).  It was horrifying to see so many in such a small part of our hive.

Next year, we’ll be putting in drone frames as soon as our queen starts laying. This year, however, we’ll be inserting Mite Away Quick Strips as soon as the weather cools. These have a good track record of treating Varroa and Tracheal Mites in both capped brood and   the bee population. They can also be used while honey supers are on.

The downsides? They can’t be used if it’s over 92 degrees, and they have to be on the hive for at least seven days. They also get expensive if you use them regularly.

We planned to insert them yesterday, but the weather’s been hot for this time of the year, with expected highs in the upper 80s this week — too close to 92 to risk it.

There are some other concerns:

  • Treatment requires taking out the entrance reducer, and yellow jackets are still looking for a way in.
  • There may be bee die-off.
  • The treatment may cause the bees to reject the queen. (And this is not a good time of year to lose a queen.)

Still, I don’t believe we have a choice if we want to give our girls a fighting chance to get through the winter.

I’m starting to think beekeeping is a continuous cycle of choosing the lesser of two evils.

Other news on the pest front: our Beetle Jails  continue to catch Small Hive Beetles. When we first received the Jail and Beetle Blaster in our Ohio State Beekeepers Association Apiary Diagnostic Kit, we baited them with apple cider vinegar and caught nothing.

Then we tried the recipe printed in the “Monitoring for Sustainability” handbook (also in the OSBA APK). I’m sharing it below because it works. In fact, the Beetle Jail, paired w.ith this recipe, has been so effective, I invested in several more traps. So here’s the recipe: one slice of banana, one spoon of high protein brood builder (I’ve been using pollen powder substitute), one spoon of honey, a pinch of yeast (they prefer Brewer’s, but I had regular bread yeast, and it’s worked fine), and a spoon of water. Let ferment overnight, mix well, and put a few drops in each trap.

And go for the Beetle Jail traps. The other ones don’t work as well.

I’ll let you know how the MAQS treatment goes.

 

 

I Just Saw a Baby Honey Bee, or One Step Forward, One Step Back

During our last full hive check, The Engineer noticed this girl making her first appearance as a fully grown bee. Seeing this was definitely a high point in our beekeeping experiences so far.

 

We’ve continued looking in on our girls each week, though last week was devoted to a sugar roll, which unfortunately yielded a few more mites than is optimal. Our bee guru has advised us to insert our drone frames and sprinkle the frames with powdered sugar. We will then remove those frames sometime after two weeks, but before three weeks pass and the bee larvae hatch.

Because the drone growth cycle more closely mimics that of the Varroa Mites, the mites prefer to lay their eggs in drone cells, thereby affording their own offspring a better chance at survival.

This, of course, is the opposite of what we want.

By inserting drone frames, we will promote the raising of drones and the laying of Varroa Mite eggs on those drones. Thus, when we remove the frames, we will have a better idea of how many mites are in the hive, and at the same time (hopefully) decimate a portion of their next generation.

That this will also decimate the drone larvae is of little consequence. They don’t do much anyway and will be kicked to the curb before winter anyway. (In the honey bee world, drones are a bit of a luxury.)

The most important thing about using drone frames — and I’m not sure I can stress this enough — is to REMOVE THE DRONE FRAMES BEFORE THE DRONES (and Varroa) HATCH!

Yes, I’m shouting. It’s that crucial.  Should something happen and the frames not be taken out in time, we would not only have an overabundance of drones, we would also have an explosion of mites!

After we uncap the cells and take a look, the frames will be popped into the freezer for twenty-four hours and returned to the hive to start the process again.

Now you may be wondering why we would sprinkle the bees with sugar. The answer is simple. Honey bees like sweet stuff. They’re also very clean. Getting coated in sugar will encourage them to clean one another, which we hope will result in more Varroa deaths.

So our next hive check will be focused on the Varroa issue.

In other news, our Beetle Jail has been doing its job, having caught five of the little black nasties on our most recent check. The Beetle Blaster was less successful, and has been replaced with another Jail. We are currently using a bait mix of mashed banana, honey, fake pollen and water, which has added to the traps’ effectiveness. (I think that was the whole recipe. If you’re interested, leave a comment, and I’ll double-check.)  We tried cider vinegar first and didn’t catch anything.

Alas, the “nuclear option” for Yellow Jackets was not as effective, probably because my trap design was faulty.  In trying to not unleash death on any living creatures other than the would-be yellow raiders, I think I made the holes too small. (The traps did, however, catch an inordinate amount of flies.) I’m crossing my fingers that the commercial traps we hung have made enough of a dent in the Yellow Jacket population to keep them out of our hive.

Now we come to this week’s “one step forward, one step back” part of the saga. When we did the last full check, I developed a sinking feeling that they haven’t put enough by for the winter, even though we’ve continued to feed them.

Before all you experienced beekeepers come down on us for doing this, hear me out. First this is a new hive, one that had just begun to store honey before we left town for ten days, which also happened to be the beginning of the late summer nectar dearth. I’d much rather feed our bees and have them make it through the winter than take a chance on weaning them too early.

Could we be wrong? Of course. It won’t be the first time, and I’m sure it won’t be the last time we make the incorrect decision concerning the girls.

Anyway, I thought it prudent to replace our pint jar feeder at with a bigger one. And since we’d planned on getting an observation lid with a built-in feeder for the winter, I went ahead and invested (one step forward).

The only problem is the new lid doesn’t have an opening/upper entry. After only a few days, we’ve concluded it’s better suited for winter use (one step back), especially since Goldenrod season was nearly upon us and the bees would want that extra opening for quick access to the honey supers.

Well, the Goldenrod is now in bloom, and I wish you could have seen the hive yesterday! It was a blur of activity, with every other bee just loaded with pollen. Unfortunately for you, I didn’t follow through on that wish in the form of a still photo, only marking the occasion by video. And though it rained most of today, severely hampering the workers’ ability to forage, I have no doubt they’ll be back out tomorrow. (Maybe I’ll manage a picture of the action for my next update.)

This weekend, we will put in the drone frames, do the sugar sprinkle, and go back to the original telescoping top cover and inner cover. We’ll also check the honey and pollen stores and perhaps (finally!) remove the food.

I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, here a few more of my bee photos to tide you over.