Shaken, Not Stirred: Performing A Sugar Shake/Roll

Check out what our queens have been up to!

This frame is from Buzzers’ Roost (the weaker, over-wintered hive). Look at all that lovely covered brood. These are two sides of one frame. Notice the glistening nectar on the left in the top photo? And can you spot the queen? We were happy to see she’s now laying in the deep box instead of the smaller medium one from the winter (also referred to as a super).IMG_0185
IMG_0186

Here’s a frame full of larvae and eggs.IMG_0187

And this one had pollen (near bottom), capped honey (bottom right), some capped brood, and larvae. If you can’t see the difference, here’s a great post from BackYardHive on identifying types of comb. You’ll notice they use different style hives, but the comb is the same. IMG_0188FreeBees also moved up into the deep box we put on last week. IMG_0192See the difference in the color of the bees? Buzzers’ Roost bees are still mainly Italian (offspring of the ill-fated Red Queen), and the FreeBees hive is Saskatraz. We’ll notice a shift in Buzzers’ Roost as the eggs and larvae from the Saskatraz queen emerge and take over.IMG_0193IMG_0192I think we counted about seven and a half frames full of brood in FreeBees. At about 7,000 cells per frame (3,500 a side), that’s a lot of bees! I keep thinking I must have mis-counted, and I didn’t write that figure down (too busy taking pictures and running the timer for the Varroa check).

Part of this week’s inspection was a sugar shake (also called a sugar roll) to check for Varroa. It was much easier this time, partly because we’d done it before, and partly because we used the University of Minnesota’s scooping method to measure out the 1/2 cup of bees (about 300) needed for the sample.

Basically, we measure out the bees, dump them in a jar with a mesh lid, measure in a couple of tablespoons of powdered sugar, roll or shake until they’re covered.IMG_0184After letting them set for several minutes, we shake the sugar onto a paper plate, wet it to make it melt, and count the Varroa.

Now, you’re wondering, “But what about the bees?”

Here’s the answer. IMG_0195-2When the sugar-covered, unhappy bees settle, we dump them back into the hive with an interesting story to tell their sisters. They immediately started fanning, (perhaps to spread the word), which you can see in the video below. (I’ve discovered that I seem to be able to upload videos to WordPress from my iPad, but not my computer of phone. Weird.) If you’re going to do a sugar shake/roll, here’s a pdf, also from the University of Minnesota’s Bee Lab. Please follow their precise directions, and not my description above!

Lastly, we replaced the pollen patty on Buzzers’ Roost and gave one to FreeBees. We’ve noticed Small Hive Beetles come around whenever we feed this way, so if you do it, be sure to put in a beetle trap or two, and check them regularly. The Buzzers’ Roost trap caught several SHB last week, and I took great delight in seeing them do the dead beetle float in the olive oil. IMG_0194-2Despite not finding any Varroa in our sugar shake, I know they are lurking in all that beautiful capped brood, especially in FreeBees. That hive now has enough bees, and we’ll do a Formic Pro treatment as soon as we get a spell of weather cool enough for the process. This week’s temperatures are predicted to be in the 90s, so perhaps the next week will be better.

We’ll also be keeping an eye on Buzzers’ and doing another sugar shake for both hives in early August, treating again as necessary.

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


Busy As Bees

Sorry. I couldn’t resist.

Once you own a beehive, you soon get a clear understanding of the etymology of that phrase, and it’s the only one appropriate for the progress our bees have made.

We’ve checked on our girls twice since you last heard from me, and they have been very busy indeed.

One thing we’ve learned is they seem to like the security of having queen cups ready to go. Too bad the sight of them has the opposite effect on me. (As I’ve already mentioned I’m not quite ready to handle a swarm.)

Here’s a couple of pictures so you can see what I mean. If you’re not a beekeeper, look closely at the frame, and you’ll see a couple of oddly shaped cells. Two of them (one on far right middle of the photo and one almost covered with bees at the bottom) are shaped a bit like a piece of Kix cereal. These were not so worrisome because they were small and uncapped. It’s the bigger one, shaped like a peanut, at the bottom of the frame that was a concern. IMG_2233

I handled the longer cell the only way I could think of: I scraped it off (out of sight, out of mind?). We also added a second deep box as planned. (Bees swarm when they feel crowded, but if their hive is too big, they can’t protect it from raiding wasps, yellow jackets or honey bees, so the timing on this is important.)

We saw our Bee Guru during the week, and that’s where we learned that some hives like the security of having a queen cup or two ready. (I didn’t actually mention the longer cell, because I wasn’t 100% sure that’s what it was. Or maybe I just didn’t want to admit that’s what it was.)

Thankfully, there was no sign of swarming before our next check. (And we would have noticed. The Engineer and I are very protective of our bees.)

Also during the week, we attended a session on using the Apiary Diagnostic Kit we got from the Ohio State Beekeepers Association. This organization got a grant to provide these kits (worth over $80!) free of charge to new beekeepers. The goal (per their website) is increasing “beekeeper confidence in hive management by providing tools to help monitor and diagnose changes in the hive before they reach a critical stage and the hive dies.” If you’re a new beekeeper (starting in 2016 or 2017), click the link to get one. Experienced beekeepers can order kits for $49.99 (plus shipping), which is still a deal.

No, this is not a commercial for this project. I just think it’s great that the OSBA made it happen. And the educational sessions about using the kit, which are being offered around the state, make the program even better.

But back to the hive. Varroa Mites and Small Hive Beetles are creatures whose sole existence seems dedicated to wreaking havoc on honey bees and reproducing so their offspring can do the same.

And when I say wreak havoc, I mean it literally. If unchecked, these pests can (directly  or indirectly) cause the demise of a hive (or hives).

Since we don’t want that to happen to our hive, we were grateful for the opportunity to learn more about protecting them. And after attending the OSBA class, we felt prepared to try out some of the tools they’d provided to help us do just that.

This is the time of year to get a base count of the Varroa, so we decided to do a sugar roll (also called a sugar shake). Check out this video from Hudson Valley Bee Supply to see a demonstration.*

Seriously. Watch the video. Even if you don’t keep bees, you’ll find it fascinating.

You can do a similar test using alcohol. It’s more accurate, but it kills that 1/2 cup of bees (about 300). We don’t like killing bees, so we used sugar.

We also inserted both the “Beetle Blaster” and the “Beetle Jail.” These are variations on a theme — both shallow trays baited with cider vinegar inserted between frames. The Jail uses cooking oil to trap the beetles, and the Blaster is designed so they can get in, but not out.

Before closing  the hive, we put strips of microfiber in its dark corners to try to catch even more beetles. (The next day, we found one of the strips at the entrance to the hive where the bees had evidently dragged it. Clearly, one or more took a dislike to the cloth and wanted it gone.)

As you might guess, this hive check took longer than previous checks. Not only did we have two boxes to check, sugar to roll, Jail, Blaster, and microfiber to insert, The Engineer had surgery on his dominant hand on Thursday and was somewhat hindered in using it.

So we were especially grateful to one of our classmates who agreed to come over to help/learn/participate.

The difference from last week was amazing. Our bees are amazing. We couldn’t believe how hard they’ve been working. The queen, whom our classmate spotted first, must be an egg-laying machine! There were loads of eggs, plenty of larvae, lots of capped brood, some lovely glistening nectar and yellow pollen, and some capped honey.

Oh, there were also a couple of queen cups too (as you can see).

IMG_2244

We were so proud! I wish I’d taken more pictures, but we were so busy admiring the results of their labor, I just forgot.

The sugar roll resulted in us finding one mite, and we spotted (and killed, of course) another one on the top of a frame. However, I re-read the directions after we came back inside, and we may not have shaken the jar long enough, resulting in a number that skews low. And with all that beautiful capped brood, well, you just know those mites are going to be after our growing larvae.

Once we feel confident the hive is full strength, we may try the drone comb to try to offset some of that issue.

Quick explanation for those who aren’t beekeepers: Drones are male bees. There aren’t as many drones as workers because they don’t do much for the hive, but their growing cycle is longer and coincides better with the mites’. So mites really like drones. The type of egg — worker or drone — the queen lays is based on the size of the comb the workers draw. If the workers feel the hive can support drones, they draw (make) drone comb, the queen lays drones, and the mites are happy. You can force the issue by inserting a special kind of foundation, with drone-size cells started on it. The workers then draw drone comb, the queen lays drones, and the beekeeper takes the foundation out before [that’s really important] the drones hatch and set any mites free into the hive. The beekeeper then uses a special tool called a capping scratcher to open the cells and count the mites. And also kill them. In this way, the drone comb serves as both a diagnostic tool and a treatment measure against drones.

Okay, so maybe that explanation wasn’t so quick. At least you get it now, right?
Your reward for being so patient is one more picture of the girls. 🙂 IMG_2245

Our next visit will be a simple check — having a look for the queen, seeing if the bees are still doing well and when they might be ready for a honey super, and looking in our Jail, Blaster, and microfiber for dead(!) beetles.

*After doing a bit of research, I have one correction to the information provided by the film: Domino Powdered Sugar is no longer cornstarch free. We used a powdered sugar that has cornstarch for our first roll; I purchased Heinen’s brand for the next time. It’s organic and uses tapioca starch instead, which seems like it might be a bit better for the bees.