The Treatment

All week, it’s been hot and humid with dark clouds threatening storms, and today was no exception.

Still, our beekeeping duties required us to suit up and treat the hives for Varroa. Because I wield the magic wand (our vaporizer), I had the added pleasure of an N95 mask and safety goggles. It was Very Hot.

Using a vaporizer to treat with oxalic acid is usually pretty simple. You block the entrances, put the powder on the little tray, slide the tray into the hive, attach the leads to a battery, and leave the vapor to permeate the hive for the alloted amount of time.

Easy-peasy.

However, when you have honey supers on a hive, you have to take them off the hive to treat because oxalic acid guidelines say honey that’s been treated with OA shouldn’t be consumed by humans.

That’s how the guidelines stand at present, although the prevailing wisdom seems to be moving away from that idea because oxalic acid is a naturally occurring substance. On February 23, 2021 the FDA finalized a ruling that establishes an exemption from the requirement of a tolerance for residues of oxalic acid in honey and honeycomb.  

Nonetheless, “Bee Culture” magazine says this doesn’t mean we can all start treating our hives with honey supers on. So, we either take them off to treat with oxalic acid, or we use Formic Pro, which can be used with supers.

Formic Pro also has the advantage of killing Varroa that are in cells of capped brood. But it takes longer (14-20 days instead of minutes [or in today’s case, about an hour]), can only be used in a certain temperature range, and kills some bees along with the Varroa. Since one of bees that it may kill could be the queen, this can be a serious disadvantage.

In our situation, we have a new queen in OH, Girls who hasn’t started laying and possibly a new queen who’s not yet laying or a new queen in the works in the OH, Girls split. As a result, two of our three hives have no brood to worry about.

Meanwhile, in the Kremlin, Olga’s laying is a little spotty, and we treated that hive when it arrived as a package.

We decided to use oxalic acid on all three hives even though we’d have to get the bees out of OH, Girls’ supers.

In the past, we’ve had no problem using our escape board to accomplish this.

We insert the board between the supers and the deeps with the triangles down and leave it in for twenty-four to forty-eight hours. The bees seem to find their way down into the brood boxes for the night, but have problems finding their way back up. There are always a few stragglers left in the supers and/or the board, but they’re easily dealt with.

Today, however, the bottom of the board was seething with bees.

After regrouping, The Engineer and I decided to cover the hole in the escape board and treat the hive with the board in place.

Filed under “other problems” was the fact that the front porch of the hive was also loaded with bees who didn’t take kindly to me trying to move them either in or out of the hive so I could block the entrance to treat the hive.

Then, the part of the vaporizer that actually does that blocking fell off, and we had to sort of hold it in place while the vaporizer was working.

We were about halfway through the treatment when The Engineer realized we hadn’t replaced the bottom board. This meant all the vapor that was going in the hive was coming right back out of the hive through the screen at the bottom.

It was like a slapstick movie where Laurel and Hardy take up beekeeping.

Out came the vaporizer. In went the bottom board. And we started all over again.

The bees were delighted with these developments.
Not.

Also, we discovered a few guard bees took their jobs very seriously, butting our veils repeatedly.

Have I mentioned how much I love my hat and veil?

What a relief it was to finish that hive and replace the supers and quilt box!

We’d hoped to be able to pull some frames for extraction, but though most were full of honey and nectar, none were completely capped. 😦

Our best bet for getting the bees on the escape board back into the hive seemed to be to tip it in front so they could walk in.

A LOT of Bees

For comparison, here’s a photo from two years ago when we used the escape board to get bees out of the supers so we could extract.

Normally, the walking back in process takes a short time, even with lots of bees. This time, the bees on the board seemed reluctant to abandon it. The picture above was taken about thirty minutes after we finished treating, and it was over an hour later before the board was mostly empty.

Clearly, this hive is very full despite having been split a month ago, and we’ll need to keep a close eye on it, especially once the new queen starts laying.

Despite the rivulets of sweat pouring down our faces and OH, Girls’ diligent guard bees trying to convince us we should abandon our tasks, we managed to treat the other two hives without incident.

What’s next on our beekeeping schedule? We’ll need to do full hive checks on all three hives, looking to see if the new OH, Girls queen has begun laying, if Olga’s prowess at egg laying has improved, and if the split has managed to requeen.

For now, that’s all the news from the OH, Honey! beeyard.

The Bird and the Bees

First, the bird (and an apology for the poor picture quality — it was shot through glass).IMG_2578

I was working in the kitchen when I heard the “Whomp!” of a bird hitting the window. Unfortunately, this happens now and then, even where we put fake hawk stickers. I didn’t think too much about it until I glanced out a few minutes later to see this Tufted Titmouse still sitting on our deck looking bemused.

But, as I watched her/him, another Titmouse came up beside and started gently pecking and hovering above the first one as if encouraging it to get up and fly. IMG_2579

The first Titmouse merely sat back up, and blinked.

The second one flew away, and I thought that was the end of it.

However, a few minutes later, several Titmice — yes, that’s the correct plural — appeared. Two hung back and watched as one performed the same ritual: gentle peck, flutter above, push.

The crashed Titmouse’s response was modest, at best.

Once more, the “helper birds” flew away.

But one returned again, clearly determined to get her/his flockmate moving.

IMG_2580S/he shoved the first bird over, pecking, pushing, and fluttering around until finally, finally, they both flew off together.

It was amazing.

It was also quite smart because we have hawks who hunt on our property, occasionally even perching on our deck, probably for a better view of our bird feeders.

 

 

And now, some more good news.IMG_2588

Yes, this is a dandelion, and yes, I saw it Saturday when The Engineer and I went for a hike/walk.

I realize this may not be good news if you are the type of person to nurture an immaculate lawn. Still, that type of lawn requires herbicides, which aren’t good for bees, and if you’re someone who thinks a green lawn is more important than pollination, you’re probably reading the wrong blog anyway.

Suffice to say, dandelions are a major source of food for bees in the spring, so it’s good news for them.

In other bee news, the weekend was warm enough for us to treat the hives with oxalic acid vapor to kill any mites that might be on the bees.

We also scraped the dead bees from the bottom of the hives.

Below, you see two photos made into one, the top of FreeBees with the bees out exploring, and their dead sisters (along with a few brothers) in the picture beneath.3BA5759C-205B-4D5E-AC25-B0F3384F210F

It looks like lot of dead bees, but that’s to be expected. In warmer weather, the dead are less noticeable because they don’t all die inside. If they do, the other bees push them out the front (and occasionally pick them up and fly off to dump the carcasses elsewhere).

The Engineer pored through all the dead bodies and didn’t find any queens. In March 2018, this is how we learned we’d lost the queen of our only hive, so we’re always relieved when she’s not among the dead.

All three hives were active, with bees zooming in and out on cleansing flights. If you aren’t sure what “cleansing flight” means, feel free to check out my post on bee poop. The picture below is a pretty clear illustration of what it looks like.IMG_2586

And although beekeepers lose more hives in March than the winter, it’s still a relief to see them out flying in February.

In the early spring, bees sometimes run out of the food they stored for winter. We’re paranoid about this and feed them sugar patties. These are made from a four pound bag of sugar, about 6 oz of water, and some Honey-B-Healthy. The mixture is shaped into patties on parchment paper and left to dry.

The essential oils in Honey-B-Healthy are said to stimulate feeding. As a bonus, when I make a batch of bee food, the house smells wonderful for days!

The next time it hits 50 F, we’ll place the patties directly on top of the frames and pray it stays warm enough for the bees to reach the food.

Also, since we treated the hives, we’ll feed them some bee probiotics to help keep their guts healthy. It may sound a bit woo-woo, but there’s science to support the idea.

In fact, I think it helped last spring when Buzzers’ Roost’s bees had a touch (spurt?) of diarrhea. This is a scary symptom because it could indicate Nosema (which is truly awful). But, we’re learning. Before panicking, we cleaned out the fouled sugar pats and fed them probiotics. By the next hive check, the problem was gone.

As the weather warms, you’ll probably hear from me more often, but for now, I’d like to encourage you to consider voting for Queen Right Colonies in the FedEx Small Business Grant contest. Queen Right could win a $50,000 grant, and you can help by voting for them. Click on the link, and type “Queen Right” into the search box. You don’t even have to register. Just provide a name and email.

The folks at Queen Right been an invaluable help in our beekeeping adventures, and it would be great to see them get some love (or at least some cash).

Thanks for visiting!

 

 

 

The Bees Knees – A Hive Update

We have a new hive! Okay, so technically, it’s a nuc (nucleus hive – basically a mini hive with only five frames).

It is, of course, named “NewBees.” (What else?)

The Engineer calls it the “Pink Palace,” though it’s actually lavender.

NewBees hive was created using a variation of a “walk away split,” where you take a couple of frames with eggs, larvae, and capped brood from a strong hive, add another frame of honey and pollen and two empty frames (preferably with comb on them), and make a new hive. Before closing up, you shake a frame of nurse bees in (from another frame of brood, which is then returned to the original hive). It’s called a “Walkaway split,” because you then walk away. If you’ve shaken the queen into the new hive, the old hive will create a new queen. If the queen was left in the old hive, the new hive will make one.

We hedged our bets by looking for our old queen before putting the frames into the new hive and making sure there was a nice fat queen cell on one of them. (If you’d like a more thorough explanation of splits, go here: http://www.bushfarms.com/beessplits.htm.)

If you recall, the last time we were able to check FreeBees, they had started making queen cells. For several weeks after that, the weather wasn’t conducive to opening the hives, and I was growing concerned they would swarm either right when we were leaving for our trip or while we were gone.

Thankfully, a window of good weather opened, and we were able to do the split. It was a good thing we did! There were at least ten queen cells in various stages. We chose the fattest one, and scraped off the rest before stealing brood and honey for NewBees.

They still looked crowded, so we also added another honey super. Although we weren’t sure they’d need it, we also knew we’d be gone for two weeks and unable to check.

Many beekeepers recommend relocating a split 2 miles or further from the old hive to prevent drift. But some say if you shake enough nurse bees in, the foragers you shake in will return to the original hive, but the nurse bees won’t because they haven’t yet imprinted the original hive’s location as home because they haven’t been out int the wide, wide world.

We planned to follow the “moving the new hive” plan, but time was short, so we didn’t. I’d also read you can put a board or something in front of the hive to force the bees to reorient. We did that, put on a big jar of food and left them to it.

Poor FreeBees. We also treated them with Formic Pro before we left. The timing wasn’t ideal, coming right after being split, but it needed to be done.

Buzzers were also due for a treatment, but we held off because the new queen seemed to just be settling in.

Fast forward two weeks to our return.

All three hives seem to be thriving, although the weather was once again not our friend. We had a quick look inside NewBees. Saw lots of bees, but no brood or eggs. When I rechecked our resources, I discovered we should not have checked until four weeks. It had been only two.

No wonder they were a little crabby.

A swift look under the hood of Buzzers showed the new queen has found her mojo. Lots of brood, lots of bees in both Buzzers and FreeBees, so we don’t think FreeBees swarmed.

Lots of pollen and nectar coming into all three hives, though you won’t notice much activity in this picture. It’s just to show you what the hives look like right now. Buzzers on the left has the standard two deep boxes and a super. The super has been being used to feed them while we nurse it to full health, but is now empty because we finally managed to treat them (also with Formic Pro). The directions recommend putting on an empty box – something to do with better air flow and less bees dying off.

FreeBees has two deeps and two honey supers with frames for honey. If you look very closely, you can see the metal queen excluder between the deep boxes and the supers.

We also treated NewBees, but they got Oxalic Acid. Oxalic Acid works only on the mites that are phoretic (on the bees). It doesn’t penetrate the capped brood. But NewBees had no capped brood because of the break in the laying cycle as they raise a new queen.

After the treatment, we were standing around watching the NewBees hive (yes, beekeepers actually do this). The Engineer noticed a large, long, fat bee land at the entrance and pointed her out.

Dear readers, we think we actually saw the queen returning from a mating flight!

Quelle excitement!

This leaves us feeling cautiously optimistic about our three hives, although we won’t be able to check either NewBees or Buzzers’ Roost for another couple of weeks. Buzzers have to be left alone while their treatment works, and NewBees need to settle in, hopefully with a new queen. But I hope we’ll have a chance to take a good look at FreeBees in the meantime.

I’ll update you if we do.

Meanwhile here are some photos and a video of bees, and a wasp in France. I took them after a delightful lunch of canard (duck) with mashed potatoes in a cafe in Pompadour. We were supposed to visit Pompadour Chateau, but it was closed, so instead I took pictures of bees. I’m sure the people in the cafe thought we were crazy. I loved this orange bumblebee, with its white bottom, similar to the yellow one in the video below. (We also saw the white-bottomed, yellow ones in England.)

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.

Oxalic Acid and Sugar Patties

It was warm again on Monday, so we borrowed the backup battery from our sump pump to power the vaporizer for an Oxalic Acid treatment. (And when I say “we,” I mean The Engineer muscled the thing upstairs and into the wheelbarrow for me to cart it outside and treat the bees.)

Bees don’t much care for  these treatments, and I don’t blame them. As implied by the name, the vaporizer fills the hive with Oxalic Acid vapor to kill Varroa mites — not a pleasant experience, I’m sure. It’s no surprise many chose went for a cleansing flight afterward. (Go here to watch them in motion.) I watched them for a few minutes before going back inside.IMG_3283
I heard it immediately after closing the door — the telltale buzz of a bee in the house — and mentally kicked myself for not checking my clothing.

I carefully took off my jacket and shook it.

No bee.

Convinced one was caught in my hair, I gingerly ran my fingers through the tangles.

No joy.

The buzz continued. Was I imagining things?

I went in the bathroom, examined what I could see of my back. Still no bee.

I took off my shirt, gave it a gentle shake.

No bee.

My jeans.

The buzzing continued, and I was starting to feel like a character in a sitcom.

Finally, I realized the sound was louder in the foyer, and looked up to see one of our girls banging on the second story window.

Sighing with relief, I grabbed a glass to catch her, released her outside, and watched as she flew straight back to the hive.

Even though a hive has thousands of bees, no beekeeper likes to be the cause of harm to even a single bee. Plus, in many cultures, having a bee come in the house is either good luck, or a sign of company is coming. Obviously, this only holds true if you don’t kill it. So, next time you find one in your house, use a glass and a piece of paper to catch and release her. I’m pretty sure there’s no such superstition about Yellow Jackets. Just sayin’.

Friday, we again had a look inside the hive. The weather has been changeable, the temperature readout extremely variable, and we had no idea how much sugar our bees might have consumed in ten days. As you can see from the pictures below, the answer turned out to be not much. IMG_3286IMG_3287
They were more interested in the pollen patty in the corner, which led me to surmise (possibly erroneously) they still have honey.

We’ll continue checking when weather permits, and I’ll keep you posted.

Until then, bee happy. 🙂

 

 

 

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.