Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Maintaining a Healthy Queen in your Bee Hive

(This is a sample of one of the many blogs you will find in our Monthly E-Newsletter. In the newsletter we discuss everything from beginner beekeeping to your second year with the hive; product highlights and updates on the current state of beekeeping. It's FREE to receive our monthly e-newsletter just click here to register.)

What are signs of a productive queen?

Finding the queen is a difficult and timely task that is unnecessary. Always check for signs of eggs when inspecting your colony. Eggs indicate a Queen was present within the last 3 days. Eggs, larvae, and capped brood confirm a balanced expanding colony.

    • Healthy Larvae should appear white, plump, and glistening. Discolored and dried up larvae are signs of Chalkbrood or other diseases that should be identified and treated.
    • Brood frames should be full looking with brood of similar age. The queen works from the center to the outside; therefore, eggs and larvae of the same size should be found in different stages, moving from the center of the frame to the outside.
    • Assess the number of frames that contain brood. Populations will continue to increase with the abundance of resources in the area, will typically remain stagnant during the hot summer months, and begin to wane in the fall with the decline in nectar flow. Brood chamber(s) with 5 to 8 frames filled with brood is ideal.
    • Finding multiple eggs per cell is a sure sign of a laying worker. A laying worker will take the role of the queen if the colony is queenless for an extended period of time.
    • Full sections of drone cappings on a brood frame is a good signal that the queen was not properly mated.
Do not be fooled! Some missing indicators of a healthy queen can be contributed to other events happening in the hive.

When a hive is preparing to swarm the queen will slow her production, leaving a manageable brood nest for the remaining hive to care for. In addition, there will be an interruption in brood rearing as the virgin queen returns from her mating flight and settles into the hive.

After new queens are introduced they may lay multiple eggs in the same cell and the occasional drone egg amongst the worker brood. After time she will settle down to a normal laying pattern.

When to replace your queen.

Replace the queen at the first signs of failing. A few weeks with a substandard queen in the spring can impact their health and strength going into winter. Some beekeepers will replace queens in colonies that are overly aggressive. Introducing a new queen with a gentle temperament will eradicate the defensive nature of the colony.

Capped Queen Cell. It is common to find uncapped queen cells in any hive, but if you find a capped queen cell that means the hive is actively working to supersede the queen.

How to replace the queen.

DO NOT KILL THE CURRENT QUEEN UNTIL YOU HAVE YOUR NEW QUEEN IN HAND. The colony will be aware of the queen removal within a few hours and begin building supercedure cells.

New queens are typically received in a queen cage that is sealed with candy and possibly a cork. Locate the existing queen and permanently remove her from the hive. Wait 24 hours before introducing the new queen and remove any queen cells found in the hive. Secure the new queen cage between the frames at the top of the brood area with a rubber band or other device to prevent from falling. The candy end needs to be facing up to prevent dead attending bees blocking the entrance and the screened facing open to the colony so the queens pheromone is dispersed throughout hive and other attending bees can care for her.

DO NOT REMOVE THE CANDY! Never directly release a new queen into a colony. The risk of her not being accepted is too high. It may take up to a week but allow the colony to become acclimated to her pheromone and release her. A colony will be more acceptant of a new queen if there is a strong nectar flow; therefore, apply a feed to your hive.

A failing queen will not improve and needs to be replaced. A proactive measure is to replace her every one to two years.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Bee Informed Partnership Survey: Help Fight Colony Loss

Why you matter: Please take the survey today!

It is not often that a solitary beekeeper, endeavoring to help nature, the environment and provide teachable moments to family, neighbors and coworkers, can make a difference, but in this case, you can.

It is April and time to limber your fingers and take the Bee Informed Partnership’s National Loss and Management survey! 

Take the Survey Now!

Starting now and continuing until April 30th, your responses from this survey provide invaluable information that DIRECTLY contribute to garnering a clear picture of honey bee health throughout the country and helps guide best management practices. Thank you for all the beekeepers who, for 10 years now, have taken the time to complete the Colony Loss survey. Additional appreciation goes to those beekeepers who have provided data for our Management survey for the past 5 years. From YOU, we have determined year after year that treating for Varroa is one core actionable practice you can do to help your colony survive.

Only 46% of beekeepers reported using a varroa mite product last year. From respondents to this survey, we see that those who DO treat, lose ~27% fewer colonies. That is marked reduction in losses! This is a trend that has remained consistent from every management survey we have conducted to date.

To help us continue this effort, click the link below to take the National Colony Loss and Management Survey for the 2015-2016 season: Take the Survey Now!

Thank you for your continued support and all our best for healthy colonies in 2016
– The Bee Informed Partnership Team

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Breaking Down a Honey Bee Langstroth Hive

When you start out in beekeeping it can seem pretty daunting how many different setups and how many varieties of tools there are available. Here at Brushy Mountain Bee Farm we try to not only provide a wide variety of tools for each beekeepers preference but also information to help better understand the beekeeping process.

When it comes to beekeeping, of course the most important part are the bees, but you can’t have bees without a hive. There are many elements to a complete honey bee hive. Some parts are a necessity while others are beneficial but not required.

Starting from the top of the hive,

here are all the parts you might find:

HIVE TOP: A hive top is necessary to seal the hive and provide protection from the elements. Two standard types of hive tops are the flat telescoping top and the A-Frame top. We manufacture our A-Frame top with a solid copper roof to make for an elegant garden piece but this design does have functionality as well. The weight of the Copper top prevents the hive top from blowing off during high winds, whereas, the telescoping top requires the beekeeper to place a weighted item on top to secure it down. The hive top overhang over the hive to prevent rain from seeping into the hive. 

INNER COVER: This is the barrier between your hive boxes and the hive top. The inner cover provides a flat sealing to help control the bees buildup as well as make it easier to remove the hive top. Bees will secure the hive by "gluing" equipment together using propolis. Without the use of an inner cover, beekeepers would end up pulling apart their hive tops in order to inspect their hives. In addition to being a barrier, the inner cover creates dead air space for insulation against heat and cold and can also be used as an additional entrance via the hole in the center and grooved opening on the side.

FRAMES and FOUNDATION: While everything else is the shell of the hive, the frames are where life happens. Everything a colony does, from raising brood to storing pollen, nectar and honey, happen within each frame. Each frame holds a thin sheet of foundation, a hexagonal pattern structure the bees use to store. Foundation can be made of pure beeswax sheets with wire support running through or plastic foundation with a thin layer of beeswax coating. 

HONEY SUPER: This is where the fruits of you & your bee’s labor really show! Bees throughout the season are constantly producing honey to feed not just the present colony but build up surplus for whenever there’s a dearth and the bees are not able to forage for more resources.A colony will need upwards of 50-60 lbs. (roughly one full super) of honey in order to survive through the winter months in a temperate climate. The honey they have stored in abundance to the 50-60 lbs. can be harvested and extracted. Nothing tastes as good as honey from your own hive!

QUEEN EXCLUDER: In order to prevent the queen from moving up into the honey supers, beekeepers will place a queen excluder above the brood chamber. The precise grooves in these plastic or metal sheets are wide enough to allow worker bees to easily move throughout the hive and narrow enough to restrict the queen. Locate your queen before placing the excluder onto the hive. Ensure she is located below the excluder or your honey supers will quickly become the brood chamber.The queen excluder is a completely optional tool. You will find a lot of beekeepers divided on the importance of it.

HIVE BODY: Your laying queen needs somewhere to lay her brood. That is where a hive body comes into play. Hive bodies are used as brood chambers for the queen to lay eggs and rearing of new bees. The hive body contains the frames the queen will build the brood chamber. Size-wise, deep hive boxes are most commonly used for brood chambers but there are several beekeepers (including many here at Brushy Mtn) who are using medium supers for both honey supers and hive bodies.

ENTRANCE REDUCER: When a hive is healthy and functioning at full force during the summer having plenty of entrance space is great, but when a hive is young or not functioning at its best, it will need a more manageable entrance. With an entrance reducer you can manage the size of the entrance so when the hive is weak it has less of an area to defend from robbing bees and other smaller pests.
BOTTOM BOARD: The ground floor of your hive. A bottom board helps seal the hive from the bottom to avoid excess buildup as well as security from pest trying to get into the hive from below. For generations most bottom boards were solid wood but, in assisting with management of Varroa mites (bloodsucking ticks that leaves bees vulnerable to diseases) in a hive, screened bottom boards have become very popular. Not only do the screen help provide ventilation but it also allows for falling Varroa mites to be completely expelled from the hive. Screened bottom boards also come with a gridded corrugated sheet that you use occasionally to count how many Varroa mites fall out of the hive and decide if a mite treatment is needed to lower a Varroa infestation.

HIVE STAND: The hive stand has three functions. One: It helps elevate the hive off the ground. To help protect it from pest and building moisture you will want your hive at least six inches off the ground. Two: It provides and extended landing platform for your bees so they have more room to maneuver in and out of the hive. Three: It makes your hive look pretty. The hive stand is not a necessity but can help your hive function smoother.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Setting Up a Hive: 8 Frame or 10 Frame

(This is a sample of one of the many blogs we provide during our Monthly E-Newsletter. In the newsletter we discuss everything from beginner beekeeping to your second year with the hive; product highlights and updates on the current state of beekeeping. To sign up to receive our free monthly e-newsletter just click here.)

There are several things to consider when planning to begin beekeeping, such as, the size hive you will want to use. The size you choose is directly relates to the number of frames each box holds. The two sizes to choose from are: 8 Frame or 10 Frame. There are pros and cons to each hive sizes and it will benefit you to understand them before making the investment.

10 Frame:

Generations of beekeepers have considered 10 frame hives the "traditional" hive. The biggest advantage of 10 frame hives is that each hive box can hold larger quantities of honey and bees per box. This is not to say the size of your colony will be larger or that you will be able to harvest more honey, rather, each box will be able to hold more. This can be beneficial as your colony grows in population. You are not continuously adding The downside is when your honey super is full of honey they can weigh up to 80 lbs. This is very strenuous work and if you have trouble lifting heavy items you may have trouble managing a 10 frame hives.

Have you ever noticed feral honey bees? They tend to build their hives in tall narrow locations such as hollowed tree trunks. They follow this same mindset when working in a hive; build up rather than build out. With the 10 frame hive, just before you place another hive body/super onto the hive, you may need to rotate the outside frames in so the bees will build on all the frames.

8 Frame:

8 frame hives have been used for over 100 years and have started to grow in popularity in recent years because of their efficiency. We use 8 frame equipment for our hives at Brushy Mountain Bee Farm. A full 8 Frame honey super can still weigh up to 60 lbs, but the hive boxes are much easier to manage. The center of gravity is closer to the body with 8 Frame hives and that makes them easier to maneuver. 8 frame hives mirrors a honey bee colony's natural building style with its narrow chamber. The colony can easily outgrow the box and requires close observation to know when to add the next super for them to move in to.

Even though 8 and 10 Frame hives have their differences, in the end they both do the exact same thing. It all comes down to whatever size you feel most comfortable using. The hive size doesn't make a significance in the size of the colony or the amount of honey it will store. 10 frame hives have been a tried-and-true size used by countless beekeepers throughout the years, but 8 frame equipment has become a more economical and can be easier to manage. Just know that you cannot use 8 and 10 frame hive components on the same hive. You can have multiple hives each their own size, but you can not mix sizes on one hive.

For more information about size variations, you can visit

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Honey Bees vs. Orchard Mason Bees

A Honey Bee & Orchard Mason Bee
Many beekeepers know the benefit their girls play in pollinating their gardens,but your foraging bees are not the only bees that are there to collect pollen. There are a range of native, solitary bees that are just as important as honey bees when it comes to pollination, plus, they require less maintenance and are not as aggressive. So, if you want to invest solely into pollinating your gardens, is it better to keep honey bees or should you rely on the native bee for pollination? Each has their own benefits.

The solitary bees, such as the Mason, are more efficient pollinators than the honey bee if you are comparing bee to bee. Honey bees are attracted to nectar producing flowers and as they travel from flower to flower they indirectly help in pollination. Their main interest is harvesting the sweet nectar these flowers produce. Mason bees on the other hand are pollen collectors. They will gather pollen to take back to their nests. Once the female Mason bee is released she will begin building her nest and collecting pollen to lay with each egg for the duration of her four to six week life span.

Mason bees are solitary and do not require any management until the eggs are harvested, whereas, Honey bee hives require close inspection and monitoring. Mason bees are less aggressive and the startup cost is very minimal. They live independently and are less susceptible to diseases and pests.

Image by John Edwards
The benefit of honey bees are their numbers. Honey bee colonies will consist of tens of thousands of bees and in turn they have a larger field force to help with pollination, making them better pollinators overall. As soon as they are finished with one crop, they can be transported to the next, impacting a larger demographic of pollinating plants. Mason bees will transition to where pollen exists if their current location lacks what is needed, whereas, honey bee's foraging range is larger so they can bring in the resources the colony needs. There is no guarantee the Mason Bee will return to the nesting site to lay for the following year.
Honey bees will forage for nectar and pollen after breaking cluster in spring and will continue until temperatures return to the 50s in the fall. Mason bees have a 4-6 week window for pollinating, after which, the female will seal in the cocoons to develop over winter.

While honey bees continue to play a major role in commercial pollination, both honey bees and mason bees are perfect for backyard gardeners. The importance of bees goes beyond our own farms and gardens. Their reach helps maintain a diversity of ecosystems with many wild plants relying on their pollination to produce seeds, fruits or nuts. These plants form the foundation of the food chain for many birds and other wildlife. Bees are a necessity that we cannot live without.

If you are after pollination in your garden, the answer is to utilize both Mason and Honey Bees.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Oxalic Acid FAQs

Oxalic Acid is a naturally occurring acid found in plants. It became popular in Europe & Canada for treating Varroa Mites in a honey bee hive.

Oxalic Acid has been approved by the EPA to treat honey bee colonies in the United States. It must pass state approval before it may legally be sold in each state. This is a continuing process and a list of states that have been approved can be found on our website.

Versions of Oxalic Acid can be found in hardware stores but those have various additives mixed with them that can cause issue with the bees. Also it is illegal to use them for hives.

The most effective time to treat a hive with Oxalic Acid is when a hive has little to no sealed brood. It cannot penetrate capped brood so it will have no effect on the next generation of mites that were left in capped brood. You can treat in the spring and summer but research shows that Oxalic works best in the fall/winter.

The best time for a broodless hive is during late fall through the winter. You can also manipulate the hive by caging the queen for 14 days. That keeps her from laying and capping any more brood. 14 days provides enough time to treat your hive and allow the treatment residue to subside before returning the queen to lay brood.

While some studies say you can treat honey bees in the summer, there are too many variables that can cause issues during summer treatments. Summertime is usually when the hive is full of capped brood so it could take multiple treatments to reduce all the mites concealed with the brood. Continuous multiple treatments can affect the bees severely.

It has not been approved for use during a honey flow. If you have honey supers on the hive you must remove them before treating and leave them off for at least 14 days to give the Oxalic Acid treatment time to be fully cleansed from the hive to avoid contamination of the honey.

There are three approved methods to treat with Oxalic Acid:

Solution Method:
Note: To completely dissolve Oxalic Acid Dihydrate, use warm syrup.
Dissolve 35g of Oxalic Acid Dihydrate in 1 liter of 1:1 sugar water (weight : volume). Smoke bees down from the top bars. With a syringe or an applicator, trickle 5 ml of this solution directly onto the bees in each occupied bee space in each brood box. The maximum does is 50ml per colony whether bees are in NUCs, single, or multiple brood chambers.

Under certain unfavorable conditions (e.g. weak colonies, unfavorable overwintering conditions), this application method may cause some bee mortality or overwintering bee loss.

A complete kit is available with all the parts you will need for Solution Method (35 grams Oxalic Acid, nitrile gloves, protective goggles, 60mm syringe, and instructions)

Vaporizer Method:
Apply only to outdoor colonies with a restricted lower hive entrance. Seal all upper hive entrances and cracks with tape to avoid escape of Oxalic Acid vapor. Smoke bees up from the bottom board. Place 1g Oxalic Acid Dihydrate powder into vaporizer. Follow the vaporizer manufacturer’s directions for use. Insert the vaporizer apparatus through the bottom entrance. Apply heat until all Oxalic Acid has sublimated.

Spraying Package Method:
Ensure bees are clustered before applying.
Spray broodless package with 1:1 sugar water solution (without Oxalic Acid mixed) at least 2 hours before spraying with Oxalic. This fills their stomachs to reduce ingestion of Oxalic Solution.
Mix 1:1 ratio sugar water with 35 grams of Oxalic Acid (same ratio as Solution Method). For a 2 lb package, use 21mL of solution. For a 3 lb package use 31mL solution.
Store bees in a cool darkened room for 72 hours before hiving.

*All totals calculated from dosage amounts listed in treatment methods above.
Solution Method: 20 hives
Vaporizer Method: 35 hives
Spraying Package Method: 47 2lb packages & 30 3lb packages

DO NOT let Oxalic Acid make contact with skin, eyes, or be ingested. Wear proper personal protective equipment (rubber gloves, safety goggles, long sleeve shirt) when mixing or distributing Oxalic Acid. If exposure to skin or eyes does occur consult directions and safety sheet for instructions. If severe reaction occurs, call 911. Wash hands, exposed skin, and PPE directly after treatment to avoid contamination.

The effectiveness of Oxalic Acid treatment can be in excess of 95%, but solution method have a higher efficacy.

You will only want to treat your hive ONCE during the fall/winter. Honey bees have a low tolerance to Oxalic Acid.  Overexposure can cause issues and death in the hive.

As with any other treatment, some bee mortality may occur, especially if hive is already weak. Check your mite count and strength of hive before applying any treatment. If you are uncertain of hive’s strength, you can get a second opinion by asking a local beekeeper or your local bee inspector.

Since it is a naturally occurring chemical, it can be used in conjunction with other non-varroa treatments. DO NOT mix directly with other chemicals while treating.

Dried, unmixed Oxalic Acid should be kept in a cool dry place will not expire.
Mixed solution can last up to a week at room temperature and a few months if kept in the fridge.


*Some information gathered from Randy Oliver’s “Oxalic Acid: Questions, Answers, and More Questions: Part 1 of 2 Parts”;

Friday, August 21, 2015

Controlling Your Varroa Mite Counts

Varroa Mites are small, reddish-brown tick like pests that feed off the hemolymph (blood) of the bees. The exposed wound their bites leave make the bees easily susceptible to infections and viruses. Treatments will reduce the mite population but the real threat of winter loss is the viruses that persist after mite treatment. It takes two to three generations of brood rearing to reduce virus levels. Late fall treatments do not allow sufficient time for the development of healthy bees to take the colony through winter. The best time to deal with mites is late August/early September depending on your location to help get your hive ready for winter.

Before you start going out and buying medication, though, you should perform a mite count to assess the mite levels of your hive. You want to have a true understanding of the mite population to know if treatment is necessary. Having a hive free of varroa mites is a rarity, therefore, it is always best practice to apply a treatment to the colony(s) to knock back the mite population before winter.

One of the best ways to check for varroa mites is by using your IPM Screened Bottom Board. An IPM Bottom Board comes with a gridded corrugated sheet that you can transform into a ‘sticky board’. The gridded corrugated sheet helps when calculating your varroa levels. To run this test:

  1. Coat the gridded sheet with petroleum jelly or cooking spray to make the surface sticky.
  2.  Insert into the groove underneath the screen of the bottom board and leave there for three days.
  3.  After three days, remove the gridded sheet and count how many mites you spot. Divide that number by three and that will give you an average daily count.
  4.  During the Fall months, if your average daily count is around 50 or more you will want to look into some form of treatment to help keep it under control.
Another way to test for varroa is a process called the sugar shake method. It requires getting into the hive to test but it gives you quicker results:

  1.   Fill a mason jar with around 2 tablespoons of powdered sugar and then about 300 bees (roughly 1/2 cup).
  2.  Put the lid on the jar and gently tumble until the bees are fully coated in the powdered sugar. The sugar will coat the bees and loosen the grip of the mites.
  3.  Replace the Mason jar lid with an 8 or 5 mesh hardware cloth and shake the excess powder from the jar onto a white surface to help with counting (paper plate works great). The mites that lost their grip will fall out with the powdered sugar. Empty the bees back into the hive.
  4.  Spray the sifted sugar with water to dissolve the powdered sugar so you can have a clear view to count the mites. If you count 10 or more mites after your test then you will want to treat.
Your ultimate goal is to control the varroa population throughout the year so they make as minimal impact on the hive as possible.

As for treating Varroa Mites, there are two different types of medications available to treat with:

SOFT CHEMICALS: An effective treatment while leaving the least amount of residue. We offer MiteAway Quick Strips and Api Life Var. Both are 95% effective. They work through the evaporation of essential oils or organic acids, thus making them weather sensitive. Many in the scientific community strongly encourage the use of “soft chemicals”.

Another soft treatment that has been growing in popularity is Oxalic Acid. Having been a popular treatment in Europe and Canada for years, it has recently been approved in the United States. It is a naturally occurring acid found in plants and honey. The efficacy of this treatment is in excess of 95%.

HARD CHEMICALS: Will kill Varroa Mites but label instructions must be followed and do not leave on longer than recommended. We supply Apistan Strips, Check Mite Plus, and Apivar. Bees have been known to build up a tolerance to these treatments. Perform a mite count after treatment; do not assume it was effective.

NON-CHEMICAL: The Varroa reproduction is directly tied to the bee reproduction cycle. Because drones are capped longer as brood, the Varroa are more attracted to drone brood where they can lay more eggs. Using Drone Foundation or a Drone Frame, you can wait until the brood is capped, remove and freeze the foundation. DRONE FRAME MUST BE REMOVED ONCE BROOD IS CAPPED. Non-chemical or IPM techniques can be effective to control mites; however, they require dedication and time to be successful.