Tag Archive | mites

The Price of Slacking

September 7, 2015

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I did more spectating than inspecting this summer. All hives were well populated, honey production was high, and activity was high all summer. I figured they just do better when I leave them alone and that they would continue to do well until it was time to prep for winter. I’d even hoped for a fall honey harvest.  The bees, however, started going in a different direction…

Labor Day Inspection

On Labor Day I inspected the hives for the first time in probably a month and a half. No honey, which wasn’t terribly surprising considering we’ve had a dearth here since the end of July. They’d had plenty of stores, which they’d done a good job of consuming. I swapped frames around, removing the supers and adding honey frames back to the hives.

All hives had brood, but the numbers had dwindled in Purple and Green hives.  Even in Blue Hive the brood patterns were very spotty. That meant either (or both) the queens were weak, they were queenless, or varroa mites were in full force. From what I’ve heard, mite counts are high this year. But I have hygenic, mite resistant bees, and I don’t treat because I’d like for them to stay mite resistant.

I returned to the shop with frame filled supers, a collection of wet nectar and honey frames, dry untouched frames, and dry drawn comb. I separated the frames – dry, wet, honey. Wet frames were set outside so the bees could clean them up (farther than 50ft from the hives, of course). Honey frames were wrapped in plastic and frozen, and dry frames (including the frames cleaned by the bees) were stacked and stored with moth crystals.

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The Search for Three Queens

It was a busy afternoon, but at least I knew where the girls stood. Immediately, I began looking up sources for queens since I hadn’t seen any signs of varroa – the bees looked healthy, no wing deformity, no signs of mites on the bees or larvae. BeeWeaver is where I purchased my existing queens. The bees started out hot, but they are mite resistant, fast producers, and hardy in the winter. The problem was they had no queens available until mid-October. I can’t wait that long. I need queens now so they have some chance of building up their populations before the cold weather gets here. I hate to mix my bees again and would prefer to keep the BeeWeaver lines going, but I also don’t want to risk losing three hives.

The hardest thing about beekeeping is finding a queen when you need one. I can understand completely why people choose to rear their own queens. Or better yet, next year I might put together several nucs in July or August so I’ll have one or two queens and some extra bees available if needed.  Fortunately, I was lucky enough to find a private queen breeder in Pennsylvania, a retired USDA employee with vast knowledge and experience who rears his own hygenic queens. They weren’t cheap, but they’re in the mail.

Lesson learned – what looks good on the outside may not bee so good on the inside. A lot can change over the course of 2 or 3 weeks, so keep up with inspections at least every 3 or 4 weeks.

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RIP Yellow Hive 2

Yellow Hive 2 (YH2)

May 11, 2013 –  February 2, 2014

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Sunday, February 2, 2014

Our 50+ degree weekend unveiled some bad news.  Yellow Hive 2 (YH2) has died.   YH2 was always a challenging colony.  It never behaved as actively as green hive, and never built up as quickly as green hive.  It threw me curve balls – like the time I discovered it had requeened itself just when I was ready to give them a $50 Texas queen.  Thanks to YH2, we have Blue Hive 3.  

Although YH2 started off strong, I could tell in late November that their numbers were starting to diminish.  They were still flying two weeks ago, then cold temps returned.  Its loss is not a huge surprise, but still disappointing and sad since somewhere along the way, despite my best efforts, worry, lack of sleep and second guessing, something went wrong.  YH2 is my first hive loss.

Suspected Causes

I opened the boxes and noticed a considerable amount of moisture had accumulated on the frames and comb and the interior felt damp.  The brood comb even appeared to be growing mold across the frames.  Mites were also visible among the dead bees, and the bottom board revealed quite a few mites, as well.   With these problems and the cluster’s decreasing size, the girls just weren’t able to stay warm and likely froze to death.  The cluster, although small, was still in tact, and the hive will remain intact for outdoor storage until the warmer temperatures set in.

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Moisture accumulated in the form of sugar syrup on the surfaces of the frames. Mold was beginning to form. The brood had been abandoned and they left quite a bit of uncapped sugar syrup in the brood chamber.

The cluster was small and intact.  To the right of the dead bees is a small dark dot that is a varroa mite.

The cluster was small and intact. To the right of the dead bees is a small dark dot that is a varroa mite.

Lessons Learned and Corrective Actions

If the air flow in the hive is not adequate, then moisture can’t escape.  Moisture is a huge enemy to bees, especially in cold weather.  Some thoughts on what might have gone wrong and corrective actions …

  • Covered Top Frames Too Heavily with Candy.  Covering the top frames blocks air from circulating up top, thus preventing moisture from escaping.  I’m told that candy and supplemental feeding should cover no more than 1/4 to 1/3 of the surface over the top frames, and that area should be the section that first receives the morning sun.
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Top frames are completely covered with candy, thus preventing air from rising to the top and moisture from escaping. Another mistake was leaving in the hive beetle traps since they also block air and prevent ventilation.


  • It was suggested that the top spacer containing the cedar chips might actually prevent air flow.  Instead, I plan to remove the box and add a stick or something that will raise the top telescoping cover just enough to create a small opening that will allow air to flow in and out.
  • I also added a mite board to Yellow and Green Hives early on to provide solid bottoms.  This too may have caused less air flow in the hive.  I was told not to abruptly remove the mite board from green hive because the bee cluster situates itself in the location that is the warmest.  By abruptly removing the mite board, they’ll be exposed and may not be able to adjust to a new location quick enough, and they may end up abandoning some of their brood because it’s too cold for the nurse bees to care for it.   I wish someone had told me this a day earlier before I so abruptly removed GH1’s mite board.  Ugh.
  • One last suggestion was to stop feeding syrup earlier in the season.  I stopped liquid in October, just before packing them up for winter.  I need to stop this year by, say, mid-September.  The frames showed quite a bit of uncapped sugar syrup, adding to the liquid and moisture in the hive.  Bees need time to not only store and cap their food, but it also needs some time to dry out a bit.  The reason we feed candy in the winter is because they don’t digest the liquid diet well, thus requiring more flights to relieve themselves.  The same goes for their stores.   If they syrup is still runny, then its like feeding them a liquid diet in the winter, which produces moisture in the hive and can result in nosema and disentary.  Moisture in winter is just bad all around.

Next Steps

  1. Apply Lessons Learned to green hive so they don’t endure the same demise – clear frames, remove cedar chips, prop top cover.
  2. Keep yellow hive boxes and comb outside for storage while temps are still cold, but plan for storage of extra drawn frames once the weather warms.
  3. Even with mold, bees will clean out the frames in the spring and reuse as they see fit.
  4. Order one or two packages just to be sure I have at least two hives going in the spring.
  5. Plan to stop feeding earlier in the season next year so they have time to cap and dry out the stores before they are put away for winter.

Farewell YH2

YH2, you were a good hive, one of my original two colonies.  You minded your own business and preferred to be left alone.  I’m sorry you didn’t get an experienced beekeeper, but I’m a better beekeeper because of you.  Know that your tolerance and sacrifice will benefit future colonies that will someday call Yellow Hive their home.   RIP YH2.  I hope you’re in a warmer place where you can be out and about making lots of sweet honey.

Mites Round 2 and the Fair

September 17, 2013 – Mite Treatments

Temperatures are ideal ALL WEEK!  And I suspect this time they won’t be spiking into the 90’s until next summer (sad but true). So should be safe now for the next three weeks of treatments.  I added the ApiLife VAR back into Green Hive 1 (GH1) and Yellow Hive 2 (YH2).  I’m happy to say there was much less drama this time around, and much less stink.  I came home this evening and the girls were in their hives, no complaints and no odor from where I stood.

I did want to show a slight improvement that we made.  We cut squares of window screen and folded it over the ApiLife VAR tablets.  This modification made all the difference in my getting a good night’s sleep.  These pillows are perfect for keeping the bees from gnawing on the tablets, plus they are larger so they lay nicely over top of the frames without fear that they’ll fall through the cracks.  For extra security, you can even staple them to the frames to ensure they stay in place.

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Changing the Feed

I’ve also shifted their feed to 2:1 (2 parts sugar, 1 part water).  Gradually I’ll reduce their feed and convert them over to candy as the weather gets colder.  Supposed to be 39 degrees tonight.  Ugh!  I also plan to make some pollen patties.  Much needed since there’s no pollen coming in right now.  I’ll start posting my recipes as I make them.

Working the Fair

On a different note, I worked the fair with my bee club this past weekend and had the best time.  We sold tons of honey and honey sticks.  I’m thrilled by how interested people are in the bees.  We had two observation hives.  We found the queen in one hive, but the workers were covering the other queen to keep her warm since the temps were so cold the night prior.

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Local Honey for Sale!

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Looking for the queen

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Lots of great fair entries!

Did I mention the guy in the photo has a doctorate in entomology?  I so wanted to pick his brain about the bees, but alas.  We were a busy group.  Lots of people wanted to see the bees and buy honey.  I hope to get another opportunity.  He’s full of information and has such passion for teaching about the bees.  In fact, he’s a world leading authority on wax production in bees.   I can’t believe I think that’s cool.   What have the bees done to me?

Lots of people with allergies out there!  Buy local honey!  As local as you can get it.

I’ll be back at the fair this weekend helping with the candle making program.   Can’t wait.  I do love the crafty DIY stuff!

Sticky Board Reveals All

July 25-28, 2013 (Days 76-79)  – Pollen Patties and Sticky Board Inspection

After disappointment the week prior, I got back in and gave the girls some pollen patties.  They need some protein since the pollen sources have died off.  I really should have been digging for the queen in YH2, since she is, or was, the likely source of my problems. Instead I took note of a half dozen more beetles and started my research on how to get rid of them before they get really bad.

Sticky Board Inspection

I decided to place sticky boards at the bottom of the hive for three days to help monitor my pest issues.  I lined the boards with a thick layer of Crisco – because beetles supposedly love Crisco.

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The sticky board method is really used to determine the mite populations in the hives. I insert the boards into the back slot on the hives, beneath the screened bottom board. The bees can’t get through the screen, so the boards only catch mites and small parasites, pollen, bee poo (yes, bees do poo), and other savory items. The mites fall off the bees and stick to the board. Three days later, I remove the board and count the mites.

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When I removed the boards, I found pollen, one dead bee, not too many mites, one small hive beetle (still kicking), one unexpected wax moth larvae (not good), and lots of small black crumbs, which based on my research may be wax moth poo (yes, even moths poo). I can’t look at these boards without thinking about the hungarian tea leaves and how the fortune tellers can read the leaves to tell a person’s fortune. I suppose you can “read” the boards and determine the bees’ fortune.

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So I’m at a point w/ YH2 where I have a failing or dead queen, I have hive beetles to deal with, and I have wax moths.  Did I mention I won a $250 Amazon gift card at a recent business conference?  I’m spending a good chunk of it on bee pollen and organic pesticides – seriously.  There’s not much you can’t buy on Amazon.

Dealing w/ the Beetles and Moths

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not ready to trade the girls in.  They just challenge me, that’s all. But I’ve done my research and I am ready to take action.  I ordered boric acid to create homemade beetle traps.  But after speaking with my supplier, he said they probably won’t work, so I’m looking at putting in a few beetle blasters and a tray that fits beneath the bottom board.  Just add vegetable oil and some soap, and the tray just slides in and out without digging into the hive.  Supposedly they’re very effective.

The moths, well everyone talks online about BT, an organic insecticide that kills worms but is safe for bees and people and dogs.  Unfortunately it isn’t sold in the US.  I could probably get some, but it would cost $30 just for shipping.

Course of Action

Seems the best course is the make the hive strong again. It still has lots of bees. They just need a strong laying queen. My tasks this weekend are 1) find the queen, 2) if no queen, then transfer a brood frame from GH1 to YH2 so they can start making a new queen, 3) remove a box from YH2 to condense the colony and make them stronger to defend themselves from the beetles and moths, and 4) buy 2 hive beetle traps for the bottom boards and some beetle blasters.

Hey, usually I’m stumped so at least I have a plan. Hopefully the plan will help strengthen YH2 and get them going again.