Tag Archive | management

Mite Mishap and Feeding Massacre

September 9, 2013   Backtracking and Starting Over

You’ll recall from my previous post “Prepping the Girls for Winter”  that I had just added a mite treatment (ApiLife Var) to Green and Yellow hives, and I swapped out the feeders for the “no drown” top feeders.   You may also recall that I included a list of recommendations when using the mite treatment.  However, the following day, I realized I left off one very, very important recommendation….

Check the Weekly Weather Forecast Before Treating!!!

When using certain mite treatments, the temperatures must remain below 90 and above 53 degrees.  I thought I was in the clear because the weekend was gorgeous.  Then the hubster, also known as Doppler Don, told me the temperatures would excel into the low 90s by mid-week.   Of course he tells me this AFTER I already added the mite treatments.

Keep in mind, I’m already losing sleep thinking about my poor girls being fumigated out of their home for the next 3 weeks.  Now they’re at risk because I didn’t check the temperatures for the week ahead.  Ugh!!!

Backtracking…

So I made yet another snap hive management decision and was determined to remove the tablets that evening.  But wait, I had a vet appointment and another meeting scheduled that night.  Ugh!

I made the 5:30 vet appointment (for my dog, not for me) and got home around 6:30 pm.  It was already getting dark outside.  I lit the smoker, suited up and started pulling the hives apart.  Green Hive (GH1) was a success, I carefully removed all 4 tablets.  Yellow Hive (YH2), not so much.  I had lost one of the 4 tablets between the frames when they were added.  And as I lifted the box, I noticed another tablet was missing.  I was only able to recover 2 tablets and could not find the other two, even after digging another level deeper.  Ugh!   Which leads me to yet another recommendation that I’d overlooked…

Caging the Tablets

The tablets should be caged in some sort of mesh or wire.  That way the bees can’t chew on them, and they won’t so easily fall between the frames.  In fact, you could even staple them to the frames to ensure they stay in place.  Next time (assuming I actually try to do this again), I will cut pieces of window screen and will staple around the tablets to create a sort of mite treatment pillow.

The Massacre

I closed up the hives and ended with feeding.  This was my first time filling up the new feeders, which I thought would be much easier and much less stressful for the bees.  I opened the top covers and the feeders were PACKED with bees.  Not only were they packed with bees, but the floats, made of cut sections of queen excluders, allow the bees to crawl underneath the floats.  The entire bottom areas of the feeders were lined with bees who, theoretically should crawl back up through the queen excluder mesh to escape drowning.

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Removing the feeders and emptying the bees out is not nearly as simple as it may sound.  I decided to take the risk in hopes that the bees would be smart enough, and fast enough to crawl back through the excluders before making contact with the syrup.  No so.  Some made it out, but the syrup was like a runny river of death for most of the bees left beneath the floats.

What’s more, the floats were stuck to the side, so when I poured the syrup, the floats didn’t float!  You can imagine at this point the girls were not happy with me, Beezilla, again…   It was horrible for them, it was horrible for me.  They were fed, it was dark, I was exhausted.

Back to Buckets

Currently, I’ve left the top feeder on Blue Hive (BH3) because it does help with robbing, and because there are so fewer bees, they don’t line the feeders, so drowning is not a problem and the feeders work as intended.

GH1 and YH2 are back to buckets.  I can’t use buckets in winter because they are taller than the medium boxes and they leave a substantial gap at the top.  I’m torn between the Collins Feeders, which are shallower bucket feeders with a wider distribution of holes and some other helpful features, or making adjustments to our existing feeders ($22 a pop!) so the bees can’t get down into the bottoms.

Final Recommendation

I’m usually good about reading reviews, but somehow I overlooked the reviews for Brushy Mountain’s “no drown” feeders.  None were good and all reiterated my exact experience.  Ugh!

The Good News (Long Term)

Unfortunately for the girls, I learn the most from my mistakes and oversights, but the good news is that these lessons are hard to forget, even for my middle-aged “chipmunk” brain.  So at least the future generations will benefit from the suffering and demise of their ancestors.

Prepping the Girls for Winter

September 8, 2013 (Day 121) – Winter Prep and Mite Treatment

The temperatures have been dropping and I’ve been thinking about and acting on all the things we need to do to prepare for winter. It feels like we’ve been working toward overwintering since April, and all of our efforts will soon be put to the test.

New Feeders

Starting with feeders, all three hives now have the “no drown” top feeders.

Blue Hive 3 (BH3) did have an enclosed plastic boardman feeder, which I’ve managed to collapse and create a syrupy mess more than once.  Even enclosed in a medium box, I think this feeder attributed to their being robbed by Green Hive 1 (GH1).  Now the top cover is tight and closes off the top entrance, resulting in one less access point for robbing.

I also swapped out the bucket feeders in GH1 and Yellow Hive 2 (YH2).  The bucket feeders work great for summer because they sit up slightly higher than a medium box, creating a draft at the top allows for ventilation.  Now that the weather is cooler, the top cover seals in the warmth, plus top feeders are much easier to fill.

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Switching to 2:1 Sugar Syrup

I checked on BH3 yesterday and they had not touched the frames in their top box.  At this point, I’m not counting on their building up more brood, but I’m still hoping they’ll draw out some comb and stores.   GH1 and YH2 are packed with bees and they have tons of brood, so at this point, everyone is getting switched from 1:1 to 2:1 sugar syrup (that’s 2 parts sugar, 1 part water).  We’ve been going through about 150 lbs of sugar every 3-4 weeks.  GH1 can go through a gallon of sugar syrup in 2 days.  It’s hard to keep up with them.  2:1 will go through even more.  Ugh!  No one said this hobby would be cheap.

Consolidating the Hives

GH1 and YH2 are both packed with bees and there’s have more to come.  I’ll leave YH2 in three boxes, but I’ll likely use a bee escape to reduce GH1 down to 4 boxes.

BH3 will be the real challenge to get through the winter.  Their numbers are few and I don’t see much brood.  Their current two-medium hive is too large for winter.  I could combine them with another hive, but I don’t want to lose that $50 Texas Buckfast queen.  So I purchased a nuc box for their winter home.  This nuc will include two 5-frame medium boxes.  I’ll pack them in and do everything I can to keep them going.

Treating for Mites

One big action item is to treat the hives for mites.  Varroa and tracheal mites are a huge threat to bees, like ticks on dogs. I’ve been waiting for the lower temps before treating with a chemical-based solution called API LIFE VAR.  Aside from using some essential oils in their feed, I have yet to apply any mite prevention tactics.  Next summer I hope to treat more using safer, more bee friendly methods, like fogging with essential oils and using oxalic acid; but as we are heading into our first winter, I’d rather play it safe and use something I know will work.

I chose API LIFE VAR because it is a “soft” chemical that will hopefully prove less harsh and invasive to the girls. No chemical is good, but when we’re up again varroa, it is by far the lesser of two evils. And it is cheap. Less than $3 a pack. I’m treating Green Hive 1 (GH1) and Yellow Hive 2 (YH2), so 3 packs will get me through 3 weeks of treatment. The drawback is that, for 3 weeks, I have to dig into the hives every 7 days to add new tablets above the brood boxes. I wish there was a better option, but they’ll just have to tough it out.

Blue Hive 3 (BH3) is far too small to treat, so therein lies another challenge for getting them through the winter.  I may try a wintergreen treatment and a sugar roll in hopes that they’ll have some winter advantage against the mites.

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The API LIFE VAR looks like beef jerky, has the texture of brittle burned wood or charcoal, and has a powerful chemical smell.  The warnings are scary – wear waterproof gloves when handling, don’t leave around heat or anything smoking, extra pieces in newspaper for safe disposal.  Bottom line – this stuff is nasty.   Again, not my first choice, but it has to be done.   And this is the SOFT chemical.  Yikes, I don’t even want to think what the hard chemicals are like.

My Recommendations

  1. Wear disposable rubber gloves.
  2. Lay it on newspaper and open it when you get up to the hives.  Not in or around the house, and especially not around dogs or pets.
  3. Use scissors to cut the package in half length wise, then gently break each long piece into four even tablets.  You’ll have 8 tablets total – this will be enough for treatment 1 of 3 for GH1 and YH2.

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Close off the screened bottom board so the fumes remain in the hive.  I used my mite count board.  I even covered it with Crisco so when all is said and done, I can see just how effective the treatment is.  Hopefully it will be covered with lots of dead mites, and no dead bees.

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On the top brood box, I laid the pieces on top of the frames on the four outer corners of the box. Do not lay the pieces in the center over the brood.

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Put the hive back together and let the API LIFE VAR do its job.

The Reaction

I returned to the hive an hour later.  I could smell the chemicals from 100 feet or more.  The girls were not happy with me.  The photo below shows the scene.   No wonder they don’t like me.  I’m Beezilla, creating havoc and digging through their home, and now I’ve stunk up the place.  And I have to do it two more times!   Yeah, there’s gotta be a better way.  

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Blasting the Beetles

August 4, 2013 (Day 86) – Installing Beetle Blasters

I drove to my bee supplier and bought 10 Beetle Blasters.  Beetle Blasters are small plastic wells that sit between the frames and are intended to trap small hive beetles.  Fill them half way with oil and when the bees chase the beetles around the hive, the beetles will jump into the traps to seek refuge from the bees.  This is an effective, safe alternative to chemical treatments.  However, ask a question to 10 different beekeepers and you’ll get 10 different answers – this certainly applies to the how to’s of using the Beetle Blaster.  Below are some Beetle Blaster how to’s that I gathered during my research…

One time or multiple uses:

  • Beetle Blasters are meant for one time use, however, my supplier said he carefully cleans his out and reuses them.  I’m cheap, so I will attempt to reuse.

How many to use:

  • Some say put one or two traps in each box, depending on severity of the infestation.   I find this method to be very invasive.  Especially if the traps in each box are changed every 7-10 days.
  • Some will place up to 4 just in the top box, because most of the beetles reside up top.
  • My bee supplier uses two in the top box of all of his hives.  Again, this is because most beetles reside in the top of the hive.
  • Again, I’m cheap.  I’ll start with one in GH1 because I haven’t seen any beetles in that hive, and two in YH2 since it has more beetles.  I’ll increase if needed.

What to use for filling the traps:

  • Vegetable oil is most popular.  Hive beetles are supposedly fond of Crisco (the oil, not the shortening).  It has been suggested that bees will clog the holes with propylus when using vegetable oil.
  • Mineral oil is safe and supposedly effective.  It was also suggested that bees do not clog the holes with propylus so much when using mineral oil.
  • Some people use motor oil.  Sure it probably works, but why would you put that in your hive?
  • My bee supplier suggested vegetable oil with a top layer of dish detergent to allow the beetles to sink to the bottom.  This enables the trap to hold more beetles and also prevents floaters from acting as stepping stones for the newly trapped victims.
Fill half way with vegetable or mineral oil and top off with dish detergent. This breaks the surface and allows the trapped beetles to sink to the bottom.

Fill half way with vegetable or mineral oil and top off with dish detergent. This breaks the surface and allows the trapped beetles to sink to the bottom, so the trap can hold more beetles.

How to fill the traps:

  • The easiest way I found to fill them is with an empty syringe.    The traps easily hang across a 9- inch bread baking pan.  I lined up 4 traps across the baking pan, used the syringe to fill them halfway with vegetable oil, then topped off the oil with a thin layer of liquid dish soap.
4 beetle blasters are easily filled and transported while sitting across the top of a 9 inch bread baking pan.

4 beetle blasters are easily filled and transported while sitting across the top of a 9 inch bread baking pan.

How to install:

  • I just lifted off the top of the hives, smoked the bees down (because they’re very curious creatures) and inserted the traps easily between the frames.
Placing the Beetle Blaster between the two end frames.

Placing the Beetle Blaster between the two end frames.

Positioning:

  • If using one, then between the first two or last two frame toward the back of the hive.
  • If using two, then place between the first two and the last two frames, one positioned toward the front and one positioned toward the back.
In place and ready to start blasting some beetles.

In place and ready to start blasting some beetles.

Now we just hurry up and wait.  I’ll check them again next weekend.  Of course, I open the hive to insert the traps and did not see one single beetle the entire time.  I hope they’re in dark little corners shaking with fear.

In the meantime, I pulled the homemade CD traps.  Not one single beetle entered those traps.  But as soon as I set them down, the ants raced right into them.  So great for trapping ants, not so great for trapping beetles.   At least mine didn’t work so well.

I’d love to hear how other beekeepers manage their beetle and pest problems.  Do you have any thoughts on using the Beetle Blaster or other beetle and pest management methods?

YH2 Gets a Brood Transplant

August 2, 2013 (Day 84)

Battling Beetles and Helping Yellow Hive Requeen

Yellow Hive 2 (YH2) is still having problems. Based on the last inspection, the hive has Small Hive Beetles and the comb is empty and without brood. I also found a wax moth larvae. All serious issues if not dealt with right away.

The Plan of Attack

The best defense for any hive against pests is a strong colony. Granted, YH2 has not been as active, but it still has ALOT of bees, and they are still guarding their hive. After speaking with my bee supplier, he suggested I reduce the size of YH2 from 4 boxes to 3 boxes. This condenses the colony so they have more bees and less space to cover for fighting off the beetles and pests.

Beetle pic

His other suggestion, besides using a hive beetle trap inside the hive, was to take a frame of brood from GH1 and put it into YH2. This would give the YH2 girls a good foundation for breeding a new queen.

Making Pollen Patties

I also started feeding the girls pollen patties since they’re not bringing in pollen and they really need the protein. I had ordered a bucket of BeePro pollen substitute, mixed it with sugar syrup and HoneyBHealthy, and rolled out my own homemade pollen patties. The girls have taken to them well. I posted this tutorial on SnapGuide, so go check it out!

Check out How to How to Make Pollen Patties for Bees by Paula P on Snapguide.

Two Homemade Pollen Patties

Beezilla Returns

Inspections are one thing, but this time I really had to know exactly what to do and how to do it BEFORE going in. I entered YH1 first, removed all the boxes down to Box 1. I looked through box 1 to verify there indeed was no brood. And I couldn’t find a queen, and no brood means either she’s died or she’s not in good laying order. So that meant leaving YH2 open while digging into GH1 for a frame of brood. GH1 has been doing outstanding, so they could afford to help YH2 out. I removed a center frame from YH2’s bottom box, shook off the bees and set it aside.

Helpful Tip Using Pillow Cases or Landscaping Fabric

I don’t like just leaving the boxes open like that. The bees operate in a dark hive and don’t care for the sunlight, plus they fly around like crazy wondering what’s going on. A fellow Maryland beekeeper and blogger, Suburban Rancher, suggested overlaying open boxes with pillow cases. A brilliant idea, except I didn’t bring any pillow cases with me to the apiary, and I don’t know that I have any on hand anyway. Then I remembered I had some black landscaping fabric. I pulled it out of the greenhouse and laid it over YH2 and it worked like a charm. It’s lightweight, keeps the bright light out, and the bees were more settled and not flying around everywhere.

Stealing Brood

I opened GH1 and removed a beautiful frame of capped brood, verified the queen was not on it, then shook the bees off and back into the box. I replaced that frame with another drawn out frame from an upper GH1 box, and replaced the upper frame with a brand new frame.

Capped Brood from GH1

Capped Brood from GH1

GH1 received a nice pollen patty as a reward for their donation, then I closed them up and grabbed their empty feeder bucket for a refill. GH1 goes through a lot of sugar syrup! I also did not see any beetles in their hive. A testament to a strong hive’s ability to fight off their foes.

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YH2 Gets a Brood Transplant

I placed the capped brood frame into YH2 and placed a pollen patty over the top bars of the brood area. The last pollen patty was completely consumed so I was hoping this one would be just as popular. Protein aids in brood production. In this case, I hoped it would aid in queen production.

Beetles were emerging left and right. I smooshed as many as I could. I’m sure a few will go for the pollen patty. I closed up the hive, with the exception of box 4 (the top box). I shook the bees from box 4 into the hive and left YH2 with only 3 boxes. I wrapped box 4 with kitchen trash bags and happily discovered that the entire box and frames fit comfortably in the bottom of my freezer. Freezing will kill any unwanted pests and bacteria and then I can figure out how to store it for later.

I also inserted two homemade hive beetle traps made with CD cases and some boric acid bait into the hive entrances. The bees chase the beetles around, and hopefully the beetles will seek refuge in the bait filled CD case. This is an experiment so we shall see if they work. I’ll still be picking up some Beetle Blaster this weekend.

YH2 only ate half their sugar syrup. I refilled it anyway. Now we just wait and see if YH2 can requeen and make a total recovery. Fingers crossed.

The Tradeoff: Bees or Honey?

We added our first honey super to Yellow Hive 2 (YH2) last weekend. The plan was to add the queen excluder beneath the first super, stop feeding, and start letting the girls make honey. The first two boxes go to winter feeding, and if we’re lucky, the girls will fill up a third box to share. Just when it was time to add the queen excluders, heck if they were’t the wrong size.

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The queen excluder is a screen that’s placed over the top brood box. It allows the worker bees to pass through and into the honey supers; however, because the queen is much larger than the workers, she is excluded from entering the honey supers and laying eggs. Eggs in honey is just icky. Rose, from my club, assured me that the queen would not move up that high very quickly, so I still had time to exchange my 10 frame excluders for 8-frame.

To Use or Not to Use a Queen Excluder

Two days later I made an emergency run after work to visit my bee supplier. I took a short cut, which should have taken no more than 30 minutes. An hour and a half later, after getting lost and taking every wrong turn possible, I finally arrived to make the swap. Rose had mentioned the idea of not using a queen excluder. So I asked my bees supplier and he agreed that I didn’t have to use the queen excluder. “If you can monitor the queen’s location in the hive, then brood boxes can be rotated to ensure that she always remains toward the bottom of the hive and never makes it up high enough to lay eggs in the honey.”

Actually, many beekeepers don’t use queen excluders at all because they are high maintenance. The bees build comb on them, blocking the passage ways. Drones get stuck in them. Many also feel the excluder inhibits honey production because workers may be discouraged from passing through the screen and entering the supers. Some beekeepers call them honey excluders.

When to Stop Feeding?

Also, I figured I’d stop feeding once the first super was added. However, the girls are still feeding like crazy on the sugar water. With all the rain we’ve been getting, they’ve have been spending a lot of time indoors. During our class, we were told to keep feeding the 1:1 sugar syrup until they stop taking it. Since pollen and nectar are low this season, I’ll also add pollen patties to their diet to increase their protein. And I plan to spray the new frames with a mix of sugar syrup and Honey B Healthy in hopes that they might draw them out faster.

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The Role of a First Year Beekeeper

Seasoned beekeepers in my club told us not to think about honey in our first year. As first year beekeepers, it is our job to grow the colonies so they can survive the winter. Their advice has served me well thus far, so I will continue to grow the hives. As much as I’d love some honey (and toward the end we might still get a box), I want my bees to have plenty of food stores for the winter, and I want their numbers to be strong. A strong colony is much more effective at fighting off pests and diseases, and a larger cluster is a warmer cluster.

So plans have changed…again. At least now I know our purpose and I have a plan for getting there. The bees come first. I won’t use a queen excluder…yet. I’ll continue feeding. Her highness can lay as she pleases, and the bees can draw out comb on the new frames and continue to grow their numbers and store food that can be given back to them in the winter. It’s the right decision. It’s the smart decision, finally. If they get to a third super while things are still blooming, then I may add a queen excluder so we can harvest a little bit of honey for ourselves. But the goal is to get them through winter and then next year, if all goes as planned…we shall be rewarded with honey!

Simple Rules for Using Entrance Reducers

June 11, 2013 (Day 32)

When to use and when not to use an entrance reducer? THAT is one of those ambiguous topics that offers no one right answer. Some beekeepers keep them on year round. But as the weather gets hotter and more humid, I feel sorry for the bees and want to give them a larger front porch area on which to hang out and socialize. Then rain comes and I reduce it again. And back and forth. Perhaps I should stop overthinking and just reduce their entrance year round. Ugh! This new beekeeper gig definitely tests my decision-making skills.

The entrance reducer has two different sized openings. The wooden piece can be turned so that only one the openings is used at a time.  There are advantages to reducing the entrance.

1) It reduces the amount of area that needs to be protected by the guard bees, thus making their jobs easier;

2) Hive robbers and invasive critters also have a harder time accessing the smaller entrance; and

3) Supposedly, entrance reducers help to control the ventilation and temperature in the hive.

However, a larger entrance provide more ventilation and it gives the bees more space to fly in and out.  So it’s nice to remove it when the honey flow is on and the temps are hot and humid.

Entrance reducer makes it harder for mice and robbing pests to enter the hive, and helps keep out the cold and wind.

Entrance reducer makes it harder for mice and robbing pests to enter the hive, and helps keep out the cold and wind.

Simple Rules for Using Entrance Reducers

Long Lane Honey Bee Farm, one of my favorite bee sites, offers a few simple rules for using entrance reducers.

When to Use the Small Setting

1) When installing your package of bees for the first time. They can still come and go, but it keeps them from wanting to fly away until they nest.
2) In the winter, when you are trying to keep mice out of your hive.
3) When the hive is being robbed by another hive. There is less entrance to protect.

When to Use the Larger Setting

Anytime you need a larger opening, but don’t want to open it up all the way. This could also be used for all three reasons above.

Should the Opening Face Up or Down?

Down is fine during spring and summer when bees are able to fly out and clean the dead bees out of the hive (yes, bees really carry their dead out of the hive, and drop them on the ground in front of the hive – I have the piles to prove it!).

During the winter, the opening should face UP! When bees die during the winter, if the opening is down, then dead bees will fill up the opening. However, if the opening is facing up, then the bees can still fly out over the dead bees which you can clean out later on a warm day (FUN!)

Can the Entrance Reducer be Removed?

Once your hive is more than a few weeks old, is not being robbed, and the weather is warm, the entrance cleat should be removed and stored in a place where you can easily find it.

There you have it.  If you were confused before, hopefully this will help sort it all out, plus a few key tips for overwintering.  Leave a comment and share how you manage the entrances to your hive(s).