Tag Archive | Mite

DIY Powdered Sugar for Sugar Rolls

September 13, 2015

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Sugar rolls sound more like a sweet breakfast treat rather than a mite preventative for bees. I’ve said time and again that I will not treat for mites, at least not with chemicals. I did it once, never again. But I’m not against using natural, organic practices, like sugar rolls, or fogging with mineral oil. I don’t have a garden fogger yet (note to hubster…it’s on my Amazon holiday wishlist!), but I do have plenty of sugar, so I decided to attempt my first sugar rolls to help manage/reduce mites in the hives.

What’s a Sugar Roll?

Sugar rolls are a very common, natural, chemical free mite management method used by many, many beekeepers. I question whether there’s any real scientific evidence to prove its effectiveness, but then again, a million flies can’t be wrong. There’s a reason so many beekeepers do it.

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The process involves shaking a thick layer of powdered sugar across the top frames of each box (1 cup per deep box. 1/2 to 2/3 cup per medium box), then lightly brushing back and forth across the tops of the frames to push the sugar down between the frames (this is the “roll”), covering the bees in sugar.

This does two things…

  • The sugar creates a slippery surface on the bees that will cause the mites to lose their grip and fall down out of the hive through the screened bottom board; and
  • The bees clean themselves and each other profusely, consuming the sugar, picking off the mites and dropping them out of the hive though the screened bottom board.

Sugar rolls don’t destroy the mite populations like chemicals do, but when performed on a scheduled basis (e.g. every month or two), they help keep the mite populations manageable by the bees and the beekeeper. No harm comes to the bees…they like sugar. Just bee gentle with brush when rolling. Also use a shaker that distributes the sugar lightly and evenly. I have a Pampered Chef sugar shaker that holds about 1 cup of sugar and works bee-utifully. I had the large container of powdered sugar open and handy as I worked, and I just reloaded my shaker between boxes.

Pure Homemade Powdered Sugar, Minus the Cornstarch

The hardest part was finding powdered sugar that doesn’t contain cornstarch. Cornstarch is bad for the bees, and I quickly discovered that virtually every bag of powdered sugar sold in stores contains cornstarch…even the more expensive Dominos brand. So I decided to make my own powdered sugar.

Nothing but the best for my bees – pure, homemade powdered sugar is actually super easy to make in a really good blender. We have a Ninja blender, which includes the smaller shake containers that attach directly onto the blender. I found that the large blender container didn’t work so well at pulverizing the sugar into powder, but the small containers and processors works great!

I added about ¾ cups of granulated sugar to each shake container and blended for about 30-45 seconds, til I could see the sugar change in consistency – it becomes more condensed and powdery in the blender.

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Voila…powdered sugar, minus the cornstarch. Save leftovers in airtight containers for future sugar rolls or, dare I say it….holiday baking.   So long summer, hello fall…

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Initial Prep for Winter 2014-15

Sunday, October 5, 2014

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I can’t believe it’s that time of year already.  Seems like yesterday we were chasing swarms and working to keep up with the spring explosion.  This year, it looks as though we’re going into winter with 5 hives.  I do no go into winter optimistically.  The bees are resilient, but anything can happen between now and spring.  I keep moving forward, try to do the right things and hope for the best.  I went into last winter with 3 hives and came out with 2.  Ventilation was the big issue.  Bees can handle cold, but they can’t handle wet.  The lost hive contained lots of moisture.  So above keeping them warm, I want to be sure the hives have good ventilation.

I took advantage of yesterday’s 70 degree weather to do some winter inspecting and prep.

1) Check for strong hives.  

I did not check for the queen this time, since I did find brood two weeks ago and the numbers look good in each of the boxes.  I’m not messing with them, since that does more damage than good.  Brood is at bottom, stores are at top.  My overwintered hives have lots and lots of stores, even Green Hive despite the robbing episode.

2) Checking for stores

Mint and Purple Hives, my two new hives, are lower on stores but feeding like crazy.  I’m continuing to feed them like crazy so they can stash it away, and I’ll give them both several frames of honey left over from last years hives.

3) Feeding 2:1 Syrup with Honey B Healthy

That’s 2 parts sugar to 1 part water – all hives are feeding right now in hopes that they’ll pack it away and have plenty to eat for winter.  I always use Honey B Healthy (HBH).  In fact, I make my own HBH which contains organic wintergreen, lemongrass and spearmint essential oils to help keep their guts clean and to help ward off varroa.   I’ll post the recipe soon!  Just as effective, and much cheaper than buying it.   If you do purchase HBH, use 1-2 tsp per gallon of syrup.

Mason Jar Feeders – I switched all of my hives to the mason jar feeders for several reasons:

1. They’re inexpensive and and easy to make.  Especially nice when you have a bunch of hives.  I simply drill 10-15 holes in the top center of the lid using 1/64 size drill bit.

2. They’re easy to collect and fill as needed.

3. I put 2 jars in, so when one empties, I can remove and they still have syrup left in the second jar until I fill the first jar up again.

4. Easy to see what they’ve consumed through the clear glass.

5. They fit securely within a medium box.

6. They dispense the right amount of syrup, so there’s less chance of it sitting and crystalizing.  And if it does crystalize, you can see it through the jar.

I place the feeders on a set of wooden or plastic chopsticks so the bees can fit beneath the jars.  After awhile, they become a permanent part of the inner cover as the bees glue them in place.

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4) Feeding Grease Patties

An easy supplement to help ward off tracheal mites.  Click here for my Grease Patty Recipe.

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6. Installed Mouse Guards

We had our first front/freeze warning, so I installed my mouse guards so the little critters can’t make their home in my hives.  I used the Brushy Mountain mouse guards last year, which worked fine.  But I find myself going with the easy, less expensive options as my apiary has expanded.  1/2 inch hardware mesh works great.  I set the entrance size to larger to prevent bottlenecking, and to allow for a bit more ventilation.

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That’s it for now.  Our first round of winter prep.  I have a few more tricks up my sleeve to help them out this winter, but the bulk of the work will be up to the bees!

Wooly Worm Predicts a Mild Winter

September 28, 2013 – ApiLife Var and Inspections

The Girls have been very low key lately.  They’re braving the cold nights and still going out and about during the day, gathering a surprising amount of pollen and storing lots and lots of sugar syrup.  The top boxes on Green Hive 1 (GH1) and Yellow Hive 2 (YH2) are heavy!  Yay for them.   That’s been our goal all along – to get everyone through the winter.  I’m happy to report that we’re all on the same page.

Mite Treatments Almost Complete

The 3rd and final ApiLife Var treatment has been added to GH1 and YH2.  The girls have settled down and haven’t reacted much to my recent invasions.  Maybe they’re getting used to Beezilla, or maybe Beezilla is getting better at handling the hives.  Or maybe they’ve finally realized who feeds them.  Or maybe all or none of the above…

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Bees Finally Initiate the Hubster

The hubster got stung for the very first time while clearing out the garden.  He’s officially one of us now.  Part of the Bee Club.  I’m sure he was standing in their flight path.  He always stands in their flight path.  I’d sting him too.  He’s more sensitive than I am, so his feelings were hurt a little.  After all, he does a lot for all of us girls.  Surprisingly the sting under his arm didn’t bother him much.  I was waiting for it to balloon up into an egg sized itchy bump so I could say ” I told you so!”, but it practically disappeared overnight.  So unfair!  Mine itch like crazy for days!

Fall Feeding and Fumagillin

All three hives are still taking in the sugar syrup as fast as I can make it.   I mixed up a batch of syrup with Fumagillin – a medication to help prevent noscema.  Noscema is a common disease for bees – similar to dysentery for humans – and occurs when they can’t get out for cleansing flights, mainly during winter.  I was told that I’m late in giving them the Fumagillin, but the weather still has its warm spurts (in the 80s today) and the girls are out and about plenty, so I think we’re ok.  Besides, better late than never.  I’ll switch back to 2:1 syrup when the Fumagillin batch is consumed.  1:1 syrup is good for building comb and brood, but 2:1 will help them build winter stores.

Drones Get Da’Boot

All three hives also have brood, but the brood production has definitely slowed down.  Dead bees are collecting around the base of the hives. The girls are kicking out the drones.  There’s no need to keep the men in the hives.  They just hang out and eat all of the food.  More will be bred in the spring when the girls need of them for mating.  For now, there’s work to be done and much food to store.  Even my little baby Blue Hive 3 (BH3) has stored quite a bit of syrup, and recently I’ve seen them bringing in large chunks of orange pollen.

BH3 – 8-Frame Boxes or Nuc?

I’m quite proud of BH3.  They’re hanging in there.  The top feeders have eliminated their robbing, however I did find a wax moth larvae.  Can’t do much about wax moths except hope the cold weather freezes them out and the girls can fend them off. I’m still debating whether BH3 should overwinter in a nuc box.  Two 8-frame mediums are not much larger than a nuc.  I don’t have high hopes for BH3 making it through the winter, but I’ll wrap them up, feed them like crazy, and hope for the best.

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Hive Beetles Hiding Out

Hardly any hive beetles have emerged in YH2 over the past two weeks.  Diatomaceous earth is spread beneath all three hives to catch any dropping larvae.  The Beetle Blasters caught a few, but haven’t made a huge difference.  Maybe the colder weather has helped.  Or maybe the ApiLife Var affects the beetles AND the mites.

Planning for Our First Winter

Ask 10 beekeepers a question and get 10 different answers.  That definitely applies to winter preparations.  Lots of decisions to be made. The hubster has built some prototype candy frames that can slide into the hives and feed the girls just like their sugar syrup frames.  I’ll probably make candy boards as well.  We’ll purchase roofing paper to wrap the hives.  Some beekeepers crack the top covers to ventilate their hives during the winter because moisture from condensation is very bad for bees.  I’ve also heard that 1-1/2 inch thick insulation board or foam board absorbs moisture and insulates the hives, so that’s another thought.  Some beekeepers don’t wrap their hives at all.  They leave it to the bees to survive on their own, just like in nature.  One thing is certain, I will install mouse guards as soon as I get some ½ inch mesh.

Wooly Worm Gives Us a Hint of What’s to Come

There’s just no telling what the winter will be like.  Well, actually there is.  We saw a woolly worm the other day.  The width of the wooly worm’s brown center stripe is supposed to be a good indicator of how harsh the upcoming winter will be.  The wider the stripe, the milder the winter.

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This worm’s brown stripe covered 1/3 of its body.  So if the wooly worm is accurate, then the winter will be mild.  Regardless, we’ve worked too hard this summer to slack or take chances.  As with everything else, we shall prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

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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