Monday, December 11, 2017

Making Nucleus Hives

The first step in making up nucleus hives, or nucs, is to determine which hives will be your donor hives.  These hives will be disassembled so that they may provide the frames of brood, pollen, and honey required for the new nucs.  You have a couple of options when choosing you donor hives.  If all of your hives have been equalized and are performing well you may want to make splits from all your hives at once.  This will allow you to make the new nucs from hives that are producing surplus bees, and will discourage the hives from swarming.  Otherwise, you may want to choose your under performing hives as the donor hives.  This will allow you to keep your best performing hives running for production.  While eliminating the under performing hives from your operation by splitting them up into new nucs.  Underperforming queens can thus be replaced at the same time that you are dividing colonies.  You can also remove old or damaged comb and add new frames of foundation during these operations.

Once you have identified your donor hives the next step is to dismantle them frame by frame.  Find the queen and cull her or cage her for future use, as you desire.  Take frames from donor hives and place them in five frame nucs.  In most cases, you will place two frames of brood, one frame of pollen, one frame of honey, and one frame of empty comb or foundation, into each new nuc.  If you require stronger nucs for production purposes use three frames of brood in each new nuc.  Once the nucs have been made up they must be transported to a new location two to three miles from the parent site.  Otherwise, the adult bees will fly pack to the site of the donor hive.  It is possible to make splits within the same apiary, but this requires special screened hives where the bees can be kept from flying for 36 hours.  In our operation we make use of screened nucleus boxes.  We also spray the bees with essential oils to prevent fighting while acclimating bees from multiple hives.

Now that the new nucs are established in their new locations you will want to introduce queen cells or mated queens to the nucleus colonies.  It is important to check for any existing queen cells that may have been built on the brood frames and destroy them.  Then place your new queen cell, or mated queen cage, between two frames of brood.  If you are raising a new queen from a cell you check her in about 14 days to make sure she is laying.  For a mated queen, check the nucleus after one week to verify the queen is laying.  Success rates vary depending on a number of factors such as weather conditions and the time of year.  You can expect about 70% success for queen cells and about 90% success for mated queen introductions using this method.  Nucs with failing queens can be recombined with production colonies.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Requeening Colonies

If your queen is performing poorly, is damaged, or is missing, it is time to requeen.  To requeen the colony you must first dispatch the old queen.  Give the colony a queenless period of at least 24 hours before introducing the new queen.  Check the colony for any queen cells that may have been started and tear these down.  The bees may not accept the new queen if they feel they can raise their own. 

Now you are ready to insert the queen cage containing the new queen.  First, examine the frames to find the brood nest.  The cage should be placed near the middle of the brood nest, between frames of brood.  If there is no brood present, place the cage near the middle of the bee cluster.  Place the queen cage between two frames with the candy end pointing up and the screen exposed.  Squeeze the two frames around the cage so that it is firmly suspended.  Make sure that the candy end is exposed so that the bees can eat through the candy.  

The bees in your colony will chew through the candy and release the queen within a few days.  After one week check to make sure the queen has been released from her cage.  It is important to leave the colony undisturbed for a week while the hive bees get used to the new queen. The colony should be disturbed as little as possible for the next two weeks while the queen establishes her brood nest.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Developing Strong Colonies

There are several keys to developing and maintaining strong colonies of bees.  First, you need to have a healthy and vigorous queen.  To develop a strong hive the queen will be required to lay up to 2,000 eggs a day.  To accomplish this she must have been well mated.  You should monitor the queen's laying pattern at least every 14 days to make sure that she is producing the amount of brood that will be required for a strong hive.  A solid brood pattern is a good indicator that the queen is laying properly.  Spotty brood patterns can be a sign that the queen is failing and should be replaced.

Next, the hive will require adequate nutrition.  This means that the bees may need to be fed sugar syrup and pollen patties if there is not an abundant amount of nectar and pollen available.  Feeding the bees sugar syrup will stimulate them to grow the hive by building new comb.  The pollen patties will provide the bees with the protein that they need to feed the developing bee larvae.  By supplementing the bees diet they will be able to raise more brood, and the developing bees will be healthier and live longer, thus boosting the hive's overall population.

Finally, it is helpful to equalize hive strength throughout the apiary.  This can be accomplished by taking frames of sealed brood from strong colonies and giving them to the weaker colonies.  Also, you can move the entire colony, switching a weak colony to the location of a strong colony and placing the strong colony in the spot where the weak colony was previously located.  This will cause the foraging bees from the strong colony to enter and strengthen the weak colony.  By equalizing the strength of your colonies you will help prevent stronger colonies from swarming.  You will also give weaker colonies the extra boost they need to produce a honey crop.  A colony of 30,000 bees will produce 1 1/2 times as much honey as two colonies of 15,000 bees.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Fighting Varroa Mites Naturally

One of the biggest threats facing Western honey bees is a small mite known as Varroa destructor.  The mite was first detected in the eastern United States in 1987.  Since then it has spread to all parts of the US and Canada.  The tiny mite is an external parasite which attaches itself to the surface of the honey bee where it extracts and feeds on the hemolymph (blood) of the bee.  Adult female mites are about 1/16" wide, are reddish brown in color, and have a crab-like shape.  They can be seen with the naked eye on the surface of adult bees or on developing pupae when removed from the cell.

The parasitic Varroa mite is a major threat to honeybee colonies because it weakens the colonies and is a vector for viruses which may infect the colony.    Bees that emerge after being fed on by the mites are smaller and have shorter lives.  Bees may be observed with deformed wings which are caused by Varroa feeding on the bud area of the pupae or by Deformed Wing Virus.  Another virus commonly linked to Varroa infestation is Acute Bee Paralysis Virus (ABPV).  This virus is transmitted when APBV particles enter the bloodstream of a parasitized bee.  The virus is fatal with bees first becoming semi-paralytic, and then dying within 3 to 5 days.

Varroa mites can be transferred to a bee colony through drifting of bees, especially drones, or through transfer from one bee host to another at feeding sites.  So it is important to continue to monitor for Varroa even after treatments.  Once an adult female Varroa mite reaches a bee colony she will detach from the bee host and enter a brood cell.  There she deposits 2 to 7 eggs near a bee larvae.  When the eggs hatch the young mites feed on the brood food, and then on the developing bee.  They stay on the bee pupae, and reproduce within the cell. When the bee emerges the fertile female mites will leave the cell. 

One method of fighting Varroa naturally is to create a break in the mite's reproductive cycle.  This is done by creating a broodless period of up to 30 days, by caging the queen or by making splits.  Another natural method is the use of 4.9mm small cell brood combs.  The smaller cell size shortens the development period of the bee, which disrupts the breeding cycle of the Varroa mites.  Removing drone brood can also be helpful since mites prefer drone brood for reproduction. 

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Identifying American Foulbrood

American Foulbrood (AFB) is a bacterial disease caused by the bacterium Paenobacillus larvae.  It infects only the young larvae of the honeybee.  AFB is highly contagious and can spread quickly through a hive and throughout an apiary.  The disease is spread through bacterial spores which can contaminate honey and equipment.  Often, the beekeeper spreads the disease by moving contaminated frames from one colony to another.  This is why regular inspections are so important.  You should inspect the brood area closely looking for any signs of discolored or deformed larvae.

Larvae or pupae that have been infected with AFB will turn from white to brown.  The infection can be further identified by a "ropiness test".  This test is performed by inserting a toothpick into the affected cell.  When the toothpick is removed the larval remains will "string out" and have a snotty appearance.  The pupae will eventually deteriorate into a dark colored scale.  The scales lie flat and cling to the cell walls.  Each of these scales may contain up to 10 million spores.  The spores can survive for decades.  This is why it is often necessary to burn equipment that has been exposed to AFB.

Treatment of an AFB infected colony can be done with Oxytetracycline hydrochloride or Terramycin.  Beginning January 1st 2017 a Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) is required to purchase Terramycin for the treatment and prevention of American and European Foulbrood.  So you will need to consult with a veterinarian on the best course of treatment.  To find a veterinarian who can work with bees checkout the Honey Bee Veterinary Consortium at

Monday, June 22, 2015

Bee-friendly Beekeeper Clothing

I started with a full bee suit to protect me from the bees. As I grew more comfortable with the bees, I realized that wearing the full bee suit was not always necessary. In fact, I could wear something more comfortable and this allowed me to stay cooler and work longer. The secret to an enjoyable beekeeping experience is to dress properly to avoid bee stings. It is common to see experienced beekeepers wearing casual clothing and just a veil.

As you gain experience with your own bees you might come to the same realization. A full bee suit is often cumbersome, especially in the summer. Fortunately, there are many alternatives to wearing a full suit. As you get to know your bees, you will be able to decide what clothing level is appropriate in the bee yard.

Here are some tips for clothing that can be worn when working in the bee yard. Bee-friendly clothing should be light or neutral colored. Do not wear dark colors in the bee yard as they attract the attention of guard bees and can trigger stinging. I like to wear khaki colored pants, as well as a neutral tone long sleeve shirt. The long sleeves not only protect your arms from stings, they also provide protection from the sun. You can always roll up your sleeves if the weather is good and the bees are mellow.

The type of fabric you choose can also make a difference in the bee yard. Smooth materials such a nylon attract less attention from the bees and are more difficult for the bees to grasp onto. Stay away from rough materials like fleece or wool. The bees may try to burrow into such rough fabrics.

In all cases, you should always wear a veil to protect your face and eyes from the bees. Also, pay attention to the openings in your clothing. Pant legs should be long enough to protect your ankles. Wearing high top boots that you can tuck your pants legs into is a good idea. You may want to close off any openings with duct tape. Keep in mind that even gentle bees can become aggressive if you were to drop a hive or a frame.

Checkout You can find bee-friendly clothing at reasonable prices.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Old Professions That Are Making a Comeback - CNBC

CNBC featured Beekeeping as one of nine traditional professions that are making a comeback. It is great to see renewed interest in our craft!

Old Professions That Are Making a Comeback - CNBC