The recent confluence of events has been, is and will be deadly to our honeybees. I almost murdered a beautiful hive yesterday. Perhaps “murdered” is too strong a word, but perhaps not. Sometimes knowing what needs to be done and actually doing it are two very different things. Life has a way of getting in the way.
Our recent weather events are the culprit. Three weeks of warm, balmy days influence our flowering plants and trees to burst forth with pollen and nectar, trick our bees into believing spring is here. As a result, the queen starts laying “pedal to the metal”. She’s encouraged to do so by all the pollen coming into the hive. Baby bees (mouths to feed) begin hatching and demanding resources from the hive. The hives gets full to overflowing with mouths to feed.
Cold and rainy then comes crashing down on us. Three or four days of cold, followed by a couple of days of rainy, and what do you get? Too many mouths and not enough resources. To make matters worse, one night of 28 degrees knocked all but the most stubborn blooms off the plants and trees. Suddenly, even the forage that precipitated this huge population explosion is gone.
The end result was, is and will be your bees are going to starve to death if you don’t feed them. It almost happened to me as referenced above. Two weeks ago, it was probably the strongest, most populated hive in my apiary. I was feeding and inspecting my hives, one at a time, as I could get to them. This hive was near the end of my circuit of feed/inspect and I had not gotten to them yet. As I cruised my hives yesterday, as I do a couple of times a day, near the end of my circuit, my beautiful, healthy hive had dead and dying bees all over the front landing board and the ground in front. Immediately, I knew what was going on. Upon close inspection, there were thousands (I am not exaggerating) of dead bees on the ground. Thousands more struggled around the landing board.
I drove back to my shop as fast as I could, poured some 1 – 1 sugar syrup into a spray bottle and went back to my troubled hive. I sprayed all the visible bees with the syrup until it was dripping of them. Then, even without the benefit of protective clothing, I opened the hive and began spraying the dead and dying bees on the frames and even the pile of them on the bottom board. I began to see some of the struggling bees sucking up the droplets of spray and getting a little more active. Fortunately, there were still a lot of bees in the hive that had not yet succumbed. The more I sprayed, the more active they became. Of course, as a way of thanking me, they started stinging me so I had to back away.
Soon after, I got a feeder jar on top of the hive (once properly clothed) and immediately began putting feeder jars on top of the rest of those I had not yet gotten to. I’ll worry about inspecting them when I can. Whether or not I saved them is still in question. Today it looks back to normal except for the thousands of dead bees everywhere. They have cleaned off the bottom board and the landing board, which is a really good sign, but I won’t know for sure until I have gone into the hive and found the queen or recent brood.
Let my experience be a warning to you. Inspect your hives now. Feed if necessary. Don’t delay. Do as I say, not as I did.
Today is March 20th and I have seen no sign of swarming yet. A few drones, yes, but no queen cells. The scout bees are checking all my swarm traps. Last year, I had my first swarm on March 8th and the year before on March 1st. I don’t know what’s going on unless the weather has got all that screwed up too. A few members have reported having swarms, so stay cautious, but I have none to report. No sign at all.
By now you should have done your “end of winter” varroa treatment. If you haven’t, your only option now is to treat with formic acid (Mite-away Quick Strips). That’s the only treatment safe to do with honey supers on the hive. I just finished with the ox/gly shop towel treatment and will do the MAQS around June. My enthusiasm for treating for varroa comes from knowing for a fact that if you do not treat your hives, they will die.
Be good to your bees. They are in your charge just as surely as your dog or your cat. Treating for varroa is just as important as getting your dog/cat vaccinated for rabies or parvo or any other disease. It is preventative, and necessary.
It’s late February and things are beginning to bloom all over. Azalea’s and Red Buds are looking like they will bust out all over any day now. The bees are foraging with a vengeance. I left my shop door open Sunday with some old dead-outs stacked up near the entrance and the bees found them. Hundreds, if not thousands of my girls were in my shop so thick there was no room for me. I turned off all the lights and covered the windows with tarps so that the only light they could see was the open door. That got most of them out, but I still had hundreds of dead bees on my shop floor yesterday and today. Note to self: don’t leave the shop door open again.
All of you missed a wonderful Georgia Beekeepers Association meeting in Griffin last weekend. I know all of you missed it because Jim Ellis and I were the only CVBA members there. You missed a great chance to learn from the professors and chat with fellow beekeepers. I encourage all of you to consider joining the GBA. It is well worth your time and money.
I finished inspecting the rest of my hives this past week (5 or 6 is all I can handle without a break). While inspecting, I did my hive body reversals and continued to treat with the oxalic/glycerin shop towels I wrote about earlier (credit Randy Oliver from California). I really like that method because it doesn’t seem to bother the bees at all. No sooner do I lay the moist towel over the brood than bees begin to crawl all over the towel. I had a few hives in which the bees had not moved up or were all scattered around the hive bodies (which I left alone), but most were all in the top brood box, which I reversed to give them room to continue moving up in the hive.
I found a few drone cells in a couple of my hives but I’m waiting now for warm sunny days to start at the beginning again, looking for drone and swarm cells. Do remember it takes a drone 24 days to hatch (from egg to bee) and an additional 10 days for him to sexually mature. It only takes a new queen 18 days to hatch (from egg to bee) and a few days after that to mature. It is NOT too early to look for swarm cells. Beekeepers in Savannah reported active swarms already and Jim Ellis told me Saturday he had already had a swarm call.
Finding swarm cells really is a gift if you have any desire to split some hives (which also serves as a swarm deterrent). When you find a swarm cell, locate the old queen and move her to a NUC box along with half the honey/pollen and brood, leaving the frame with the swarm cell(s) in the original hive along with half the honey/pollen and brood. Move that NUC with half the bees/honey/pollen/brood and the old queen 2 miles away. Fill up the old hive with frames and foundation and now you have two colonies of bees. After a few weeks when the new queen has hatched and mated, you can move your NUC back to your yard and put them into a full size hive. One hive is now two. Couldn’t be easier.
My hives were all full of honey and pollen, so I have stopped all feeding, but you need to make that determination for your own hives. Inspect. Try to lift them from behind. If they’re heavy, you’re probably good but better to pop the top and inspect. When I inspect my hives, I remove and inspect every frame in the top box, then move it aside and do the same with the bottom box. You should be doing this now.
If It seems light or if you do not see a good amount of food, keep feeding. From now until the honey flow begins in earnest around April 1st, your bees are in danger of starving. Two or three cold days or two or three rainy days and they can starve if they don’t have sufficient stores.
A quick word about pesticides. In our area of the state, we really don’t have heavy agriculture and that’s where the greatest danger from which pesticides come. Pesticides can be a problem, but we are not at great risk from agricultural spraying. Although I’ve read about and seen pictures of pesticide kills, I’ve never actually seen one in real life. If you spray pesticides for any reason or can influence a neighbor who does, make sure to spray late in the afternoon around dusk and never, ever spray blooms the bees visit during the day. Spray only after the blooms have dropped.
As I listen to lectures and attend classes at state meetings, I have noticed the “experts” are now spending a lot of time on Varroa and less and less time on Neonicotinoids (a pesticide infused in seeds). I’ve even seen a couple of studies that discount Neonics as a problem. A real turn-around from a few years ago when everything from Colony Collapse Disorder to Global Warming was being blamed on neonics. The jury is still out, I guess.
INSPECT YOUR HIVES! TREAT FOR VARROA! FEED WHEN NECESSARY!
– Paul Berry, member CVBA
The fee for this course is $100. This covers classroom materials, text book, a one year membership in the CVBA and the six classes. Instructors will guide participants to sources for tools, equipment, protective clothing and honeybees, none of which are included in the fee. Immediate family members wishing to take the classes with a fully paid participant, can pay a $50 fee but materials are not included (share). If someone wants to take just one or two classes, the fee is $25 each class.
To register for The Spring Beekeeping Class, please call Oxbow’s front desk at 706-507-8550 and ask to register for the Spring Beekeepers Program. Payment can be accepted over the phone.
Dates for the 2017 Spring Course:
Class 1: February 25th, 2017
3PM – 5PM at Oxbow Meadows Auditorium
Registration, introductions and general discussion on honeybees and beekeeping, all designed to answer the question, “Is beekeeping right for me?”. Distribution of textbook, catalogs and other materials. Overview of equipment needed by participants and how to order. Woodenware must be ordered soon after this meeting.
Class 2: March 4th, 2017
3PM – 5PM at Oxbow Meadows Auditorium
Discussion of honeybees, types of bees, life cycle, hive locations. Further discussions on the use of woodenware, protective clothing and other tools necessary for the beekeeper.
Class 3: March 11th, 2017
3PM – 5PM at Oxbow Meadows Auditorium and Garage area
Hands on assembly of hive components. Demonstrate and assist participants in the assembly of their equipment.
Class 4: March 18th, 2017
3PM – 5PM at Oxbow Meadows Auditorium and Beeyard
How to don protective clothing. Lighting a smoker. Use of various tools. Discussions on package installation and NUC installation. Demonstration of an actual hive inspection.
Class 5: March 25th, 2017
3PM – 5PM at Oxbow Meadows Auditorium and Beeyard
Hands on hive inspections by instructors and participants. Overview of the extraction process. Demonstration of the extraction equipment. Discussion of next sessions events and what participants need to bring.
Class 6: April 1st, 2017
3PM – 5PM at Oxbow Meadows Garage area and Beeyard
Final formal class. Demonstrate the installation of a package of bees and the installation of a NUC with live bees if available and possible. Assist participants with their installations.
Beekeeping education is ongoing and we recommend joining the CVBA as we provide educational programs throughout the year. Joining is easy. You can view the membership application HERE.
Insectival Honey Extraction at Oxbow Meadows – free admission for those taking this class.
The fee for this six-week course is $100. This covers classroom materials, text book, a one year membership in the CVBA and the six classes. Instructors will guide participants to sources for tools, equipment, protective clothing and honeybees, none of which are included in the fee. Immediate family members wishing to take the classes with a fully paid participant, can pay a $50 fee but materials are not included (share). If someone wants to take just one or two classes, the fee is $25 each class.
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.
HELP! Swarms & Bee Rescue
BECOME A MEMBER!
PRINT out an APPLICATION HERE
Here is a handy link:
QUICK LINK TO SWARM LURE RECIPE!!!
SPRING BEEKEEPER 6 WEEK COURSE 2017
To take place on six consecutive Saturdays at OXBOW MEADOWS. Saturday February 25 thru April 1, 2017
3:00PM - 5:00PM on each of those Saturdays - cost is $100 for all sessions or $25 per individual session.
** View Course Description HERE **
Call 706-507-8550 to reserve - space is limited.
This is a beekeeping course pack full of information. Bees and Beekeeping equipment are available to purchase but are not included in the price of the educational sessions. Read More HERE
(see below for specifics about our alternating locations)
LOOKING AHEAD-MEETINGS IN 2017:
January 9 - Georgia Extension Service Office
February 13 - Oxbow
March 13 - Ga. Extension Service
April 10 - Oxbow
May 8 - Ga. Extension Service
June 12 - Oxbow
July 10 - Ga. Extension Service
August 14 Oxbow
September 10 - CVBA Picnic at Betty Beegle's Farm
October 9 - Ga. Extension Service
November 13 - Oxbow
December 11 - CVBA Christmas Social at Ga. Extension Office
All dates except the picnic begin at 6PM and end (hopefully) before 8PM.
All of our meetings are on the second Monday of the month, except, of course, September's annual picnic. Now you can put us on your calendar early and plan out your entire year of beekeeping meetings. These meetings alternate locations between Oxbow Meadows Environmental Learning Center, 3535 South Lumpkin Rd., Columbus, GA and the UGA Cooperative Extension office - 420 10th Street in Columbus, GA. Time is 6:00 PM
Becoming a member of our Beekeepers Association is easy! CVBA-MEMBERSHIP APPLICATION
- March 2017 – Paul’s Newsletter
- February 2017 – Paul’s Newsletter
- Beekeeping Spring Course Outline -2017
- January 2017 – Paul’s Newsletter
- Gavel Passed at Christmas Party 2016
Nucs Arrive 2015
Varroa Mite Test
- March 2017
- January 2017
- December 2016
- October 2016
- September 2016
- August 2016
- June 2016
- May 2016
- April 2016
- December 2015
- October 2015
- August 2015
- July 2015
- June 2015
- April 2015
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- February 2015
- December 2014
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- September 2013
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- November 2012
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- March 2012