Spring Hive Check List

It is spring here: periods of sun between bouts of rain.  I’ve taken the sunny days to do the spring hive assessment, which requires opening all of my hives (about 80) to check them and give them their spring essential oil supplements (in cane syrup).

Bee Boxes being removed for spring cleaning

Empty frames and boxes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I do apologize for the lack of pictures.  The sunny days are short, so I’ve not stopped to take many.

FIRST CHECK: ARE THEY ALIVE?

Determine WHY the hive died

This year, the dead-outs I’ve encountered have failed from:

  1. “Seemda” – you know Seemed A Good Idea At The Time
    1. Two bee yards that looked great in summer turned out to be way too wet
    2. The bees couldn’t stay warm and dry
    3. As they were new yards, each had only 2 hives, so a 4 hive loss
  2. “I-Thought-They-Could-Do-It” : Nucs that weren’t big enough to be alone
    1. Enough food, not enough heat  – 2 down to that.
  3. Mid-winter queen supercedure – 2 lost to that

On the positive side: No American Foul Brood (so far)

ACTIVE HIVES : TAKING THEM APART:

As I descend through the hives I check for :

  1. The amount of honey the bees still have stored.
  1. Queen presence (in the form of eggs, open brood, or sealed brood)
  1. Queen viability – looking again at eggs and brood

a) Laying Patterns

b) What is she laying – if there is a preponderance of drones, she’s on her way out.   If there is a high percentage of drones, this can be laying workers.  BUT if there is a single egg at the bottom by the foundation of the laid cells (“bottom being next to the foundation), then I figure it’s a failing, or badly mated queen.

Side Note :  Queen supersedures can happen at any time a queen starts to fail and there is a larva (or larvae) with which the bees can create a queen.  However, there are no drones flying in this area until April at the earliest, so any virgin who does manage to find good flying weather, will find few or no drones with which to mate).

4) Laying Workers : A high percentage of drones plus the tell-tell sign of  double eggs, and eggs stuck to the   sides of the cells.

  1. Diseases– looking for anything from American Foul Brood to Nosema to Varroa.  Any diseased hive is marked. To be dealt with that day or evening.
  1. Clean the bottom screen.
  1. Remove any unneeded boxes.  I overwinter in 4 to 5 medium boxes (I only use medium – aka western – boxes).  The bottom box (where their pollen was in fall) is always empty.  Sometimes the next one up is empty.  If the remaining boxes have ample laying room for laying, pollen, and nectar, the empties are removed
  1. Remove older frames that are not in use by bees. All frames over 5 years old leave the hive  Brood frames over 3 years old are pulled and, if they still look good, will be stored for  use as honey frames later in the year (I know, I know, I should get rid of these too, but so far so good on this system)

REBUILD THE HIVE:

Reorganize Boxes – probably to great annoyance of the bees.

  1. Replace removed older frames with newer frames (I date all my frames)
  2. Break up “walls” of honey

I leave a lot of honey on the hives in winter, so I may find hives that are becoming  honey bound.  I don’t mind this – It’s like when I hike: if I come back from hiking with no food in the pack, I have seriously messed up.  I want to come out of the backcountry with extra food.  I want the bees to have “extra” honey when spring hits.

3) The boxes are manipulated to:

Keep the brood area together as is, with its pollen where the bees put it.

Move honey next to the brood area (sometimes it’s a few frames away)

Give 2 frames of drawn comb above the brood area with honey near-by

Bring honey from outer edges towards the center.

If this is a strong hive the frames are “checker boarded” : One honey frame, One drawn frame, One honey frame, and on…

  1. Put in the “dollar store hive top feeder
  2. Feed the bees:  The above link will give a detailed explanation of what I feed.   Basically it’s a cane sugar solution with essential oils  (Lemon Grass, Spearmint, Thyme Oil, Tea Tree),  and a touch of organic apple cider vinegar.  (The link doesn’t have the vinegar, it’s a new addition)
  3. Place top on hive.

MARK HIVES WITH ISSUES

  1. Queenless hives are marked
  2. Hives that are small, but with good queens marked – to go to any queenless hive
  3. Deand and/or Disease hives are marked.
  4. If they have an immediate need they are delt with
  5. If they can wait – a healthy dead-out can wait – “I shall return”

THE BEE PEP-TALK

Give bees a pep-talk “OK girls, you can do it, you know you can.  You’re brilliant”

You may doubt my sanity.  But I talk to all my animals (and the truck, and the tractor)

IT DOES TAKE TIME

I know this takes time.  I can do about 2 hives in 30 to 45 minutes depending on what I encounter.   Somehow the problem hives always come right at the end of the day, or just before the massive rain cloud parks itself overhead and lets loose with a torrent of water.

The time is well spent.  When the maples flower and the dandelions bloom (some of our first flowers) the bees will be ready for the nectar flow with the resulting increase in their numbers, and not be bothered by me ripping apart their hives.

CLEAN THE REMOVED BOXES

All the pulled boxes still need to be scraped.  I am so not looking forward to this, but it must be done.  I did have a photo of them, but now wordpress won’t let me load images (it’s my very old computer).

That’s part of what’s going on at Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, Maple Falls, Washington.  How do you prepare your bees for spring or fall – depending on where you are?  I love learning new things, so please share.

 

 

Posted in 1 Beekeeping, 4 Feeding Bees, 9 Brookfield Farm Bee Yards | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Two Hives In One

I am going though all of my hives right now – more on the “what I do” in the next blog – but I thought my “two hives in one” moment was quite interesting.

FALL 2013 : NO QUEEN?  MERGE WITH A NUC

Last year I took part in a beeinformed.org bee health survey .  The last month I was willing to run a test was in October.  I never open my hives in October – it is just too cold.  But I wanted to know if the natural treatments I use really work (last year: Nozevit and Mite Away Quick Strips – formic acid).   The results are here.

All of the eight hives I tested still had eggs and/or brood, except one.

So there I am, worrying: does this hive, a really strong hive, have a queen?

As I have mentioned, to say “Karen worries” is about like saying “The earth revolves around the sun”.  It’s a given; I worry.

Next to this hive is a nuc with a nice little queen.  It was a good nuc, but not big enough to make it though the winter.

That evening, using the newspaper method, I merged the two hives. I did not move anything in either hive.  This means that the nuc went above a box with 6 frames of honey in the center and 4 empty frames on the side – I figured if the lower bees needed a queen, they would come find her.

A week later I pulled the newspaper, thinking, “Well, I’ve either saved a hive or condemned the weaker queen to death”.  Then I went home and winter set in.

A tall hive at a Brookfield Farm bee yard, Maple Flls, Washington

The tall hive
Room for 2 queens

SPRING 2014 : TWO HIVES FOR ONE

This week, I was working down the hives in that bee yard.  At that moment I’d totally forgotten about the merge.  I do keep notes; I just hadn’t read them.

I pulled the top off of the hive and there was a nice little cluster.

Brookfield Farm top bee box in over winter check

Top Bee Box
Small Cluster With Queen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t expect, or want, big clusters here at this time of year.  We’re still about a month away from any substantial nectar flow, and it’s raining about 50% of the time.  I just like so see a nice cluster with some eggs and possibly brood.

I set the top box, with eggs, and probably the queen, aside and start down the boxes (it was a really tall hive due to the merge).

Next box down – fairly empty, some honey.  Set it aside.

Checking over wintered bees - box 2

The second box down

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next box – lots of honey.  Pick it up to set aside.

Brookfield Farm bee box during post winter check

3rd Box down :
filled with honey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And see in the next box:

Brookfield Farm bee box with strong cluster

The second queen
Fourth Box Down

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

– a substantial cluster of bees.  “What the????” I thought, and then remembered the merge.

THE QUEEN DOWNSTAIRS

I gently open these frames, and sure enough there’s eggs and brood down there too.

I am elated, and grumpy.  The elation is obvious: I’ve got two good hives in one.  The grump was because I was tired.  It was the end of the day, I had one more hive to go, and now I’d have to come back after dark and move the upper queen and her boxes.

Because the merge had taken place over a “wall” of honey, the two hives lived happily together.  Bees really don’t like to cross solid honey unless there’s a reason.  Had the bottom box been queenless, those bees would have had a reason to head for the queen upstairs.

HAPPY SURPRISE, SAD SURPRISE

I did have that one last hive to work.  So, after tidying up the two-queen hive, I rebuilt it with its wall of honey in place, knowing I’d come back later.

The next hive was grumpier than I.  There were lots of bees, but they were not pleased.  I soon discovered why:  they had no queen.  She must have recently died, as there were no laying workers.  Just lots and lots of angry ones.

So I cheated.  It was late, but not dark.  Foragers were still out.  I picked up the top queen-right boxes from my two-queen hive, and merged them, and their queen, with the queenless hive.  I always have newspaper with me for these emergencies.

Brookfield Farm Bee yard : two bee boxes being merged

The Merge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I figured the foragers from the queen-right boxes would go back to what had been the 2-queen hive.  But the queenless hive had more than enough workers so I think they’ll be fine.

I’ll head back this week (when it stops raining), and pull the newspaper.

BEEKEEPING –
THERE’S ALWAYS SOMETHING HAPPENING

One of the things I like about beekeeping is its surprises and challenges.  I never know what I’m going to encounter when I open a hive.  Sometimes it’s depressing (the bees are there, but they’re dead), and sometimes, like this, it is joyful.  Keeps me on my toes.

Any surprises in your hives?  Do tell – beekeeping has so many mysteries – and they are all fascinating.

Posted in 1 Beekeeping, 5 Queens and Queen Rearing, 9 Brookfield Farm Bee Yards | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Snow At The Hives

The February snows have arrived.  I woke up last Sunday to the realization that a bit of snow had fallen and it was not going to stop.  That slowed things down a bit this week, thus this photo essay of Brookfield Farm Hives in the snow.

Our two livestock guard dogs came with me to check the hives.

Livestock Guard Dogs and hives in snow

Guard dogs and Hives

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The larger one is the “puppy”, he is just one-year-old.

 

Snow covered hives at Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, Maple FAlls, WA

During the snow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a winter wonderland – one I could do without.  Snow should stay on the high mountains and not at the farm…if only nature could get that straight.

All was well, even with big chunks of snow falling all around us.

Beehives in Snow

After the storm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next day my husband, tiny dog, and I attempted to drive up the 3/4 mile to the farm.  1/4 mile in, the drive became and uphill walk.  The farm is on a ridge – lovely, but challenging at times.

Brookfield Farm's road covered in snow

Our road

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It doesn’t really show, but that’s a fairly steep uphill section that’s preceded by the “bad corner” : a steeper corner where the road makes an “s” shape.

First I went to get water for the packgoats.  I had installed a rain chain to direct water to a collection bucket.  It was a bit icy.

Ice covered Rain Chain

There’s water moving inside

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I could watch the melting water descend down the chain inside the ice.  At the bottom the water dripped off the icicle and was filling buckets rapidly.  So goats were fine for water.

Icicle at end of Rain Chain

Slowly it melts

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then out to the hives.  Fine, and beautiful.  But, understandably, not a lot of bees flying.

Snow covered beehives in the sun

The sun arrives

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The bottom entrances were clear on some; I cleared others.  But none of the bottom entrances were being used.

Beehive bottom entrance in snow

Not a Lot of Action

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few bees were using the top entrances to check out the sunny day.

Top entrance of beehive being used by honeybees

They liked the entrance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I drill two 7/32 holes for top entrances.  These fit the bees and the mice cannot get though.  (I have no idea what 7/32 is in mm – we are so behind the times here in the US)

A few bees decided they liked an alternate top entrance, where the collars sides had slightly separated.

Honeybee exits  top collar of hive

They Go Their Own Way

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But all was well -

Snow on beehives at Brookfield FArm, Maple Falls, WA

After the storm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…except for that 1/2 mile walk back down the ridge at the end of the day.  Since then, my husband Ian has dug out the road.

That’s the news from Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, Maple Falls, Washington.  We consider ourselves lucky.  The world-wide weird weather has hurt so many people and animals.  This snow storm has come and gone leaving only sore back.

How are your bees in your parts of the world.  I hope the weather is treating you well.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in 8 Brookfield Farm & Bees, 9 Brookfield Farm Bee Yards | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Dressing for Winter Markets

My bees and I live in the northwest corner of Washington state.  To the west is Puget Sound (also known as the Salish Sea).  The Cascade Mountains rise to Mount Baker’s 10,781 foot summit (3,286 meters), 58 road miles inland.

Mt. Baker Washington state

Mt. Baker (wikipedia commons image)

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the north, just beyond the rolling foothills is the Fraser and its expansive valley in British Colombia, Canada.

Sunset over Fraser River, BC Canada

Fraser River, Canada (wikipedia commons image)

 

 

 

 

 

 

These geological features combine to give us occluded fronts.  This means high winds and cold days. In winter we usually get rain (or snow), then a break before another rainstorm blows in quickly.

Graphic of occluded from from Gwinnett County Public Schools, Georgia

                                          Occluded Front                                                    (Gwinnett County Public Schools Georgia image)

 

 

 

 

 

 
(Just a note the above graphic comes from a great site about meteorology)

The weather here makes it challenging to raise bees in this area, but this post is about another challenge: staying warm while working winter markets.   We do two winter markets: the Fremont Market in Seattle and the Bellingham Farmers Market.  The former is outside.  The latter is inside a building, but our booth is just inside a glass wall that lifts to the ceiling.  The door is happily kept open unless temperatures drop to 28F. I say happily, because more customers come when the walls are open.   Warm clothes are essential in both markets.

A bit of background: I don’t do cold.  I grew up in southern California, where “cold” meant 50F.  I do not like to be cold, and I do not react well to it.  Layers are the solution to my dilemma of spending around 11 hours in the cold during markets (3 hour set up, 5-6 hour market, 2 hour breakdown)

LAYER UP

I bundle up for market.  Layers are the way to go.  They provide space where body heat can be trapped and keep me warm.  On the odd chance that the sun should emerge and warm up my world, layers can also be easily shed.

My base layers are three pairs of long underwear: silk next to skin, wool above that, then some man-made fiber over that.  Then the regular cargo trousers and wool shirt.  Of course no one ever sees the trousers and shirt because the layers continue.

SWEATERS ARE US

We were once a fiber farm sold beautiful Irish sweaters along with our yarn and roving from our sheep and cashmere goats.  When we became an apiary we had dress sweaters and over-sweaters left from our stock, but too few to sell.  I got to keep them, and they have been wonderful for market.  I wear one as a shirt and one as a sweater.

So far, if you’re counting, that’s 5 layers of clothes on the torso, 4 on the legs.

Honey, Handcrafted Furniture, and beekeeper Bean in Brookfield Farm's market booth at Seattle's Fremont Market

Our Market Booth in Winter

PARKA ON DEMAND

I also bring my parka.  I seldom wear it!  The five layers keep me pretty warm.

WOOL HEAD TO TOE

By now you’ve probably noticed a theme here: wool (and silk).  Natural fibers are amazing.  They not only provide space for warm air to be trapped to keep one warm, but they work even when wet (no man made fiber can do this).

My devotion to wool is from head to fingers and toes.  A wool hat never leaves my head during winter markets.  A wool scarf wraps tightly around my neck, and wool socks keep the toes warm.

I wear two pairs of gloves – that layering thing again.

Bee Box Assembling : Cold Weather

Same Gloves : Work & Market

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The base pair are smartwool glove liners.  These are wool, but they are thin enough to allow me to make change and restock the table as sales occur.

Smartwool Glove Liners

Smartwool Glove Liners (smartwool.com)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The outer pair are fingerless, and now thumbless, wool gloves from Nepal.  The minor crisis in my life right now is that I must search out new fingerless gloves as I only have this one pair left (I know there are wormholes in space into which gloves disappear – where else do all mine go?)

It can be hard to find wool clothing in our area, but because of our background in as a fiber farm, we still carry wool hats and socks at the Fremont Market, so I have a ready supply of those, but not of gloves.

WATER, WATER, EVERYWHERE

It rains a lot here.  Wool keeps working in the wet.  But it’s best if one doesn’t get wet.  So we carry three pairs of shoes to market in the winter: regular daily boots (or sneakers/trainers),  rain boots, and snow boots.

The rain boots are seldom worn at market and are more for emergencies that occur on the way to market : moving fallen trees out of the way in a downpour comes to mind.  Rain boots offer no insulation.  I think their plastic actually makes one lose heat.

The snowboots are magic, and not because of snow.  On a wet and cold day when one has to stay in one place for hours at a time, the thick insulation in snowboots keep this beekeeper’s feet warm and dry.   Did I mention that I don’t do cold?

A WARM BEEKEEPER IS A HAPPY BEEKEEPER

I like doing markets.  It’s a joy to talk to people about honey and beekeeping.  I do this so much better when I’m warm.  So although I may look like an overstuffed cushion, I can smile my way through some of the coldest, wettest market days, and continue to share my love of bees with my customers.

OTHER LANDS, SUNNY LANDS

There are lands, in which I know some of you live, that have other climatic challenges.  So, just how do you deal with long market days in high heat?  I would think light clothes and lots of water, but do share.

That’s the news from Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, Maple Falls, Washington where I am looking forward to the arrival of warmer spring days.

 

 

 

 

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Making Bee Candy (aka Fondant)

I leave lots of honey on my hives in the winter.  Usually about 70 pounds for established hives, a bit less for the smaller hives.  In a normal year this will provide food for the bees from October, when forage disappears, to late February, when forage emerges.  This year was a bit different.

A warm winter in Washington

The weather turned odd.  Why do I imagine everyone regardless of where the live in the world now nodding their heads?  We normally have snow, lots of snow.

Snow covered bee hives at Brookfield Farm, Maple Falls, WA

Winter Bee Hives

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This year we had sun.  Not lots of sun, but quite a bit.  And only one week of snow.  This was worrying as bees were out and about, not in cluster.  When I see bees out and about I figure they’re eating more honey for energy.  So I checked the hives and found that most were fine with lots of honey but about 8 smaller hives and 2 larger hives had plowed though their stores.   I needed to make bee candy.

A Bee Health Aside

No matter what we make for the bees.  Nothing is as good for them as their own honey.  I do mean their honey.  Anytime you give a hive honey from another hive you are risking the movement of diseases.  I do move honey frames around between my hives.  I never use any other beekeepers honey in my hives.  That said, if you, or you bees, don’t have food – anything is better than starving.  So we should make that “anything” the best thing we can.  I use Cane Sugar.

Well used 50 pound bag of cane sugar

50 pound bag of cane sugar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As of this time,  Cane Sugar is not GMO (I think), but Beet Sugar is GMO.  So my bees get cane sugar fondant.

Bing-a-Ling Bees’ Candy Recipe

I had a recipe, but mine always comes out a bit gooey.   During a recent meeting at the Skagit Valley Beekeepers Association one of the beekeepers, Brad Raspet from Bingaling Bees, passed around the most beautiful disks of bee candy (aka fondant) that I’d ever seen.  Then he gave us the recipe.

10 lb sugar
5 cups water
1 teaspoon ProHealth or Honey Be Healthy or your own essential oil mix
1 teaspoon Vinegar

Bring Water to boil on medium high heat
Add sugar & stir, add more sugar & stir (don’t cover)
Continue stirring, and bring to softball stage 242 degrees
Remove from heat, cool to about 190 degrees
Add ProHealth & Vinegar…
Stir vigorously and quickly pour into paper plate molds
Should be fudge hard at room temperature when cooled
Place on top bars, (add empty honey super if required)

Brad explained what the vinegar is all about: it makes the sucrose in sugar take on a more glucose-like structure, making it easier for the bees to digest.

I Channel My Mother

My mother was a great woman (who could periodically drive me mad, but that’s what moms are for).  Raised 2 kids alone, a brilliant mathematician, rose to be a VP in a prominent think tank.  Could not make candy to save her soul.  Divinity: flat, not fluffy.  Pralines: they were supposed to be that runny, right?  You get the picture.  I have inherited this lack of ability, it would seem.  Mine was not nice disks.  Mine broke apart and was crumbly.  I know it’s me and not the recipe; it’s a family thing.

Making Bee Candy (fondant)
Details and A Photo Sequence

Weighing the Cane Sugar

Cane Sugar being weighed for Bee Candy

Weighing Sugar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wax paper in cookie trays : where the fondant will be poured

Trays Wait To Be Filled with Bee Candy

Awaiting Candy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I use a deep pot.   A long piece of wood is used to stir the fondant.  A candy thermometer watches the temperature.

Bee Candy thickens in a pot

A watched pot…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Slowly, and I do mean slowly, because you have to keep stirring, the bee candy thickens.

Bee Candy drips from spoon

Thickening Up

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My bee cooking is down in a section of the barn.  I have barn cats who really like this, as the heater is on during cooking.  The actual process rather bores them, however.

Cats not amazed by bee candy preparation

Bored Cats in Barn Kitchen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally the fondant has gone up to 242 and down to 190F — at which point I poured – I’m lying, I scooped it out and mashed it down into the trays.  As I said lack of cooking skills must be genetic…

Bee Candy Cooling

Cooling The Trays

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Really, Brad’s was completely smooth and didn’t crumble.

Then out to the bee yards to put the fondant on the top bars.

Bee Candy on hive top bars

There if they need it

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My hives have a small “collar” – a 2 inch tall box – on top.  If you look close you can see the top entrance at the top of the image.  The candy is placed on the top bars, the burlap laid back down over the candy, and a piece of insulation above the burlap — then the top is put back on.

Bee examines bee candy

Honeybee On Fondant

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One little bee came up to test my cooking.   If the bees need the candy they will eat it.  If they don’t need it, they will ignore it (it’s not as good as honey).  But in the mean time, I’ll worry less.

That’s the news from Brookfield Farm Bees and Honey, Maple Falls, Washington.  Has the world’s odd weather affected your bees or changing how you are managing your bees?  Do share….

 

 

Posted in 1 Beekeeping, 4 Feeding Bees | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Boxes and Frames : A Winter’s Tale

I received a call once from a young lady who wanted to see if her husband could “experience a day as a beekeeper” – a birthday present.  Somehow I don’t think she meant: sit in a room in mid-winter with clamps, a mallet, and a staple gun to assemble a small mountain of boxes and frames.  Why, oh why do I think that?

Unassembled bee boxes and frames, Brookfield FArm, Maple FAlls WA

My Winter Work

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is indeed part of my winter chores.  Last November Kelley Beekeeping had a great deal: Free Shipping! Kelley is one of my favorite suppliers, from whom I always buy wax foundation.  Wooden ware, however, has always been a no-go because of the shipping costs.  Kelley’s is in Kentucky and I am in a remote corner of Northwest Washington state, about 2,500 miles apart.  The shipping, as we say, will kill you.  The moment the free shipping kicked in I was on the phone for boxes and frames, lots of boxes and frames.

Bee Boxes to Be assembled

Piles of Unassembled Boxes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As an aside, I always have more frames than would be required for the number of boxes I possess.  This is because  I remove 5-year-old frames, so I always need new frames.  The frame removal is to reduce the build up of pests and diseases in the hives.

I am at that odd place in beekeeping: neither small enough nor big enough to order assembled frames.  Assembling takes time, but costs less than purchasing preassembled wood ware.  Time and money are both scarce, but I can usually find time in the depth of winter.

There is a wonderful device one can make to help assemble boxes, Michael Bush has a nice photo sequence on this bee box jig.  I don’t have one of these jigs.  It always seems to be on the to-make list, but doesn’t get made.  I use two angle clamps, a wooden mallet, and a power stapler. 

Angle Clamps and Mallet : Bee Box Assembling

Angle Clamps and Mallet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Full Bee Box Held with Angle Clamps, Brookfield Farm Maple FAlls, WA

Ready To Staple

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bee Box Assembling, Brookfield Farm, Maple FAlls,WA

The Stapler

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bee Box Assembling : Cold Weather

It’s Just Not Warm Here  Yes, I am wearing two pairs of gloves.  This is normal for me in the winter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My goal: 20 boxes and 200 frames per week; to me, a reasonable goal.   Then the generator broke down.  The farm is off-grid and the surge of air compressor that drives the stapler is way beyond the capacity of our inverter, thus I need the generator.   Last word is two weeks before it is fixed.  Guess I’ll be wiring all the frames that I built.  I do that in gloves as well.

Do note that Kelley’s has just announced that in celebration of the 90th year, they are waving all shipping for all of 2014 (for orders over $200).  If I weren’t already inundated with woodenware, I’d jump on it.

January at Brookfield Farm is also: taxes, book festivals, book farmers markets, register hives, organize the bee notes from 2013 and all the other paper work that has to be done to keep the apiary going.  Those things are truly a little boring to write about.

That’s the news from Brookfield Farm Bees and Honey, Maple Falls, Washington.  What winter apiary activities are you up to…or for those in the southern half of our planet: how’s the summer going?  I bet it’s way warmer than here.

 

Posted in 1 Beekeeping, 4 Hive Components | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mites That Might Eat Mites

Last July, I heard though the grapevine that Stratiolaelaps scimitus, a predatory mite formally known as Hypoaspis, were available locally.  These little darlings eat mites, potentially varroa mites.

(A side note: links to photograph sources are in text under the image.  WordPress is having issues with my 7 year old computer, and not all link options are available.)

STRATIOLAELAPS SCIMITUS – predatory mites

Stratiolaelaps scimitus, predatory mite courtesy of Syngenta.com

Stratiolaelaps scimitus, predatory mite       courtesy of Syngenta

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stratiolaelaps scimitus eat lots of other insects.  Technically they are termed a” non-specific predator”, gobbling down 1-5 other bugs every day.  In the US nursery trade, they are used to kill thrips.  Interestingly they have also been used to control mites on tarantulas, snakes, and hermit crabs.  In the US, Canada, and the UK (and possibly other areas) some beekeepers are using repeated applications of these mites to control varroa.  Here’s some UK links.

The Bee Vet (U.K.) : home page
The Bee Vet (U.K) : Predatory Mite PDF : Predatory Mite PDF from The Bee Vet, UKClare Densley (Beekeeper Buckfast Abby who uses these mites): homepage
Clare Densley : blog post about predatory mites:

There is a downside for their use in beekeeping: Stratiolaelaps scimitus, once placed in a hive, do not stay in the hive.  They are ground dwellers.  Conceptually, they eat and kill their way though the varroa, while heading for the ground where they will burrow in and reproduce.

MY MITES (the “good guys”) and HOW I TESTED FOR VARROA

My mites were raised in British Columbia, Canada, by Applied Bio-Nomics Ltd.  and distributed by a Bellingham Horticulture company, Sound Horticulture . The 25,000 that I got arrived mingled with vermiculite in a one-liter canister.  These predatory mites are tiny, smaller than 1 mm in length, which is about 1/25th of an inch.

Predatory Mites, Stratiolaelaps scimitus, in a Tube

Tube of Mites that Might eat Mites

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stratiolaelaps scimitus (Predatory Mites) in tube with vermiculite

There are mites in there

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I received the predatory mites, I was participating in the beeinformed.org bee health survey, which I mentioned in the last post.  So every month I had the luxury of having bees from selected hives tested for both varroa and nosema loads.  Seemed like a perfect time to test Stratiolaelaps scimitus mites against varroa in my hives.

Brookfield Farm (Maple Falls, WA) Hive marker for bee health survey

Marker Designating A Bee Health Survey Hive

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TEST OVERVIEW

I was not impressed by the mites work.  The results were all over the place.

Treated hives: varroa number went:

  • Down in one hive
  • Up in two hives
  • Down then up in the fourth hive

Control hives (no Stratiolaelaps scimitus applied): varroa numbers went:

  • Up in three hives
  • Down, then up in the fourth hive

I’ll get to the test results in a moment.

First I would stress that all the hives already had varroa present.

Other beekeepers in the UK and Canada have seemed to have some success
Those having success have noted that they do not work well if the hives have a varroa infestation.

  • I used them in July.  Varroa numbers were already high.
  • I wanted to see what they would do if one had varroa.

HOW MANY MITES TO USE:

Stratiolaelaps scimitus (predatory mites) worksheet to determine amounts for bee hive tests

High Tech Calculations

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I found a range of suggestions on how many mites to use.

The U.K. sources suggested: 

  • 800 mites / hive every month in the dormant season (hives with no varroa)
  • 1000 mites/hive every 2 months, from March to September

Remember these folks are starting with non-infected hives.

My mite supplier suggested 2,500 mites for an infested hive

Another test I found (and then lost the link, sorry) used

  • 3,750 mites on a non-infected hive
  • 6,250 mites on an affected hive – that is one-quarter of the tube of mites

As you can see, there were a lot of options from which to choose.

I opted for 4 different doses.  One dose per each hive.  These were approximately:

1,000 mites
2,000 mites
2,500 mites
6,250 mites

MY TEST: (finally eh?)

  • First, I gently rotated the container, as instructed, to mix the predatory mites in the vermiculite
  • Then I measured the mite/vermiculite mix with tablespoons and teaspoons.
Putting Stratiolaelaps scimitus (Predatory Mites) On Paper in Brookfield Farm bee hive

Applying Stratiolaelaps scimitus Mites

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • The mixture was placed on top of newspaper, as suggested by my supplier.
 Stratiolaelaps scimitus (Predatory Mites) On Paper in Brookfield Farm bee hiveMites On Paper

Mites on top of brood top bars

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • The newspaper was placed on top of the highest brood box.

The test results:

The numbers that precede each result is the number assigned to the hive in the bee health survey.

The varroa mite count number is the number of mites/100 bees

Hive Dosage

(number of predatory mites)

Mite count

Pretreatment

July

Mite count

Post-Treatment

August

Mite count

Post-Treatment

September

2 2,500 mites

(6 TB, 1.75 teaspoons)

14.02 12.5 5.34
3 1,100 mites

(3 TB)

6.29 10.19 21.45
6 2,200 mites

(6 TB)

12.9 6.18 12.25
8 6,290 mites

(17 TB)

6.92 7.11 31.09

 

 

Non-treated hives of the same period:

 

Hive No Treatments Mite count

Pretreatment

July

Mite count

Post-Treatment

August

Mite count

Post-Treatment

September

1 No treatments 9.53 11.93 11.26
4 No treatments 2.77 9.39 15.66
5 No treatments 5.3 4.2 24.57
7 No treatments 4.36 5.25 23.76

 

DISAPPOINTMENTS ARE PART OF LIFE

Did the predatory mites work in hive Number 2?  I have my doubts, as hive 8 had similar varroa numbers; it got a higher dose of mites yet the varroa count went up, dramatically.

If the predatory mites worked in hive Number 6, then they were effective for only one month.

OK, I was bummed.  I really wanted these little mites, who already live in the US, to be the magic bullet that was going to get rid of the Varroa mites.   The only other varroa predator I have heard of would have to be imported to the US, and that is a really, really bad idea : the importation of a non-native animal to kill a pest.  That leads to environmental destruction and chaos (as we humans have proved time and time again).

THE DOWN SIDE OF THE MITES (in my humble opinion)

  • They do not take up residence in the hive.
  • They, apparently, must be applied repeatedly, beginning before varroa season
  • They do not attack varroa inside of capped brood (the real problem area).
  • They are not inexpensive I figured that the suggested rate for application in an affected hive cost (one quarter of the tube) is around $6.50/hive. Hop Guard is cheaper, and it, like the predatory mites, affects varroa out and about in the hive but not in capped cells
  • They don’t seem to work in my hives.

ANYONE OUT THERE FIND THEY WORK?

If you or a beekeeper you know has used these mites and they worked.  Do write and share.  As I have often said, every hive is different; every hive location is different.  My results show results on only for four hives, with varroa, here a remote corner of northwest Washington state.

WHAT HAPPENED TO THE VARROA IN FURTHER TREATMENTS

The hives are fine.  I used other natural treatments in the fall.  The results of those treatments are in the previous post LINK.

 

 

Posted in 1 Beekeeping, 2 Diseases/Pests/Treatments, 8 Brookfield Farm & Bees | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments