• January 2017 – Paul’s Newsletter

    Date: 2017.01.17 | Category: Uncategorized | Tags:

    Paul’s Newsletter

    Today is the middle of January.  January 16 to be exact.  So what should you be thinking about in regard to your bees?  This time of year, you should be thinking about the health of your hives and what are you going to do when the bees begin to swarm around March 1st.

    To prepare for certain events, it usually helps to count backwards.  For example, if you want to know when to begin swarm prevention (such as it is), you should know that is takes a new queen 18 days to hatch. Counting backwards, you know the hive can swarm around March 1, so that new queen must have been laid around the middle of February, say, for ease of calculating, February 15.  By February 15, the hive has already committed to swarm with the construction of queen cells.  Once the hive commits, there’s not much you can do to discourage it.

    Therefore, if you wish to “discourage” the hive from swarming, you should probably do your hive body reversals around the first of February on a warm, sunny day.  Get the idea?

    Let’s say you want to do some hive increases.  Well, you could let them swarm and hope you can recover the swarm (i.e. one hive becomes two).  Instead of taking the risk, you could initiate an “artificial” swarm.  That’s a process we call “splitting” the hive.  You open the hive and look for swarm cells.  When you find one, take the existing queen from that hive, pull out 5 frames of bees (being sure NOT to take the frame with the queen cell on  it), put them and the old queen into a NUC box and move it 2 miles or more away from the mother hive.  Add 5 frames of foundation to the mother hive and the new queen will hatch, take over the mother hive and give you two hives from one.  After a couple of weeks, you can bring the NUC back home and treat it just like you would a NUC you bought.

    So when do we go into the hives to look for queen cells?  After February 15.  Actually, you can find queen cells anytime after February 15, all the way up to late August.

    So that’s for February, what do we need to do NOW?

    Your bees can die from a number of things, but for the most part, you will lose your hives for one of two reasons:  Starvation or Varroa (mites).  Starvation is the saddest because you will open your hive and find all your bees with their heads down in the empty honey cells, dead.  They were licking the last of the honey from the cells.  Lots of dead bees on your bottom board.  Sad because it’s highly preventable.  CHECK YOUR HIVES FOR FOOD STORES NOW.  Also check them every week or so because now is the time bees can easily starve.  Feed them with a 1 – 1 sugar syrup mixture if the hive seems light (I begin feeding all my hives on January 1st regardless).

    I get phone calls all the time from beekeepers who have lost a hive or hives.  I had a call last week from a beekeeper who lost 4 out of 6 hives practically overnight.  Hives were full of honey but no bees and no brood.  Obviously he discovered his dilemma before the other bees had a chance to rob all that honey.  Wait a few more days and the hives would have had no honey, no brood and no bees.  The answer is Varroa.  My first question is always, did you treat for varroa?  And the answer is usually “no”.  The fact is, you must treat for Varroa.  There’s no alternative.  Want to keep your bees alive?  Then you MUST treat.

    My pattern of treatment is:  Apivar in the fall after honey harvest, oxalic acid in the late winter/early spring (now) and Mite Away Quick Strips in the spring.  Of the three, only MAQS can be used when honey supers are on the hive.  Apivar and MAQS are pretty self explanatory.  The directions are on the package (follow them to the letter).

    Oxalic acid can be used in a number of ways, however only three methods have been approved for use in the USA.  Some states have not yet approved it  but Georgia and Alabama have.  Those three methods of treatment are: vaporization (sublimation), spray and dribble.  ANYTHING OTHER THAN THOSE THREE METHODS HAVE NOT BEEN APPROVED, and I would never encourage anyone to violate EPA rules.

    There is, however, extensive work being done all over the world and one method, being tested by Randy Oliver in California interests me.  He describes it in this month’s issue of American Bee Journal magazine.   I’ll try to summarize it.

    He takes common blue shop towels (similar to regular paper towels on a roll) and dips one towel in a solution of oxalic acid mixed with food grade glycerin, squeezes it out, then places that towel on top of the frames of the lower brood body.  It takes the bees 4 to 6 weeks to chew up the towel and throw it out the front door.  The timing is perfect to expose 3 generations of bees to the OA, thus getting the vast majority of the Varroa.

    “Don’t try this at home”.  Here’s the formula he uses.  For each towel (1 per hive) measure 25 ml of food grade glycerin and heat it to the temperature of hot coffee (do not boil), weigh out 25 grams of oxalic acid, stir it into the hot glycerin until it fully dissolves (you can reheat, but don’t boil).  This is enough for one towel, so multiply quantities for additional hives.  Soak the towel in the warm solution to saturate it.  Put it into a tray with a catch drain and squeeze or press until you have recovered about half the solution.  It will be blue, but can still be used.  The final squeezed towel will hold about 25 g of solution and will weigh about 31 g.  He places this towel on top of the frames of the lower brood box in a double brood body hive.

    You MUST USE NITRILE GLOVES.  Avoid contact with bare skin.  It is Acid.  It will burn you.  It washes off easily on warm water and can be neutralized with baking soda dissolved in water.  The OA/Gly solution will stick to your fingers and to anything and everything you touch, so don’t.

    Final cautions.  It is illegal to use oxalic acid in any way not approved by the EPA and the individual states.  It’s also illegal to use any Oxalic Acid that does not have the EPA label on it, even though it’s identical to common wood bleach you can find in any paint or hardware store for a fraction of the cost.  Also it is worthy of being repeated: always use nitrile gloves when handling Oxalic Acid.  Don’t touch it and don’t breathe it.

    Last caution.  If you don’t treat you hives for Varroa, they will die.  Maybe not this year, but next for sure.  Feed, Feed, Feed.  And Treat, Treat, Treat.

    Paul Berry

    paulbeekeeper@yahoo.com