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. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Replacing a Queen

In order for a colony to survive they must have a fertile queen. 
A queen will be replaced in the event that something unexpected happened to her or, more commonly, the queen's fertility and pheromone will decrease as she continues to age. This act is known as supersedure (would be considered an emergency supersedure if the queen were to die unexpectedly)

In an emergency situation, worker bees will transform a cell with a fertilized egg into a queen cell. If the queen is being replaced because of age, the colony will develop a queen cell for her to lay into. 

When inspecting the hive for these queen cells, how do you know if the queen has been released or not?

Here are come photos that may help.

The above image shows a nurse bee attending to the larvae inside the queen cell. Worker bees will make thousands of visits to feed these larvae Royal Jelly. This royal jelly diet allows the reproductive organs and pheromone glands to develop fully.

The above cell is capped over, waiting for the queen to emerge. You can distinguish a queen cell by its size and texture. Because of the enriched diet and her elongated abdomen, a queen cell extends downward and is much larger than worker or drone cells. It takes on the texture of a peanut shell and the queen emerges from the bottom.


The virgin queen will emerge from the bottom of the cell. The first queen to emerge will go through the hive and destroy the other queen cells. This is done by cutting a small hole in the side of the cell and stinging those queens who have not emerged yet. 
The new queen will then go on a mating flight and return ready to begin laying eggs. If the new queen was developed due to an older, infertile queen, both queens may remain in the hive. Eventually the older queen will expire. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Installing Your NUC

For those who have purchased a NUC (Nucleus Hive),
 you are ahead of those who started with a Package. 

At the start they will have less bees than a standard 3 lb. package; however, because the queen is laying there will be brood in all stages and the NUC will grow much faster. Brushy Mountain Bee Farm NUCs consist of 3 deep frames of brood in all stages and 2 deep frames of honey and pollen. We personally go through each of our NUCs to ensure that there is a queen present. Having an established queen means there are less queen complications, such as queen acceptance, absconding, or supercedure with a NUC.

Here is a great video of a NUC installation but if you have the time to stay for our live demonstrations on our NUC Days you will be able to ask questions or voice concerns. 

Once your bees have been installed, a feeder must be applied. Careful consideration should be taken when choosing your feeder. Both internal and external feeders have their pros and cons. Entrance feeders have the advantage of allowing you to check the feed levels and apply more if needed without opening the hive. Internal feeders such as division board feeders and hive top feeders, allows for more feed to be applied to the hive and decreases the chances of robbing. 

Keep the feeder on until your bees are able to sustain themselves (even then, having a feeder on for that rainy day is recommended). If temperatures do not drop below freezing, a 1:1 ratio of sugar to water is an acceptable feed. The sugar water mixture will help stimulate colony growth. Add a feed supplement to increase the colonies growth and health. If colder weather is forecasted, feed with fondant or other semi-moist, hard feed. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Frames and Foundation for your Hive

As we begin prepping for the year to come, beekeepers begin purchasing frames and foundation for their hives. Beekeepers always wonder what frames will work the best for their hives and what type of foundation they need for those frames. Almost any type of frame can be made to work with any type of foundation. There are certain styles of frames and foundation that work better together. 

Wooden frames are the most common used in the bee industry. They do require some assembly and will accept supports to hold the foundation sheets steady. With the use of support pinsrods, or crimped wire foundation, wooden frames will be able sustain the weight of the honey produced during the honey flow. However, when manipulating the frames in the hive, care must be taken not to crack or split the frames.

Wooden frames have two different style top bars and bottom bars. Top Bars either come as Grooved or Wedge Top, Bottom Bars as either Grooved or Divided. You can combine any combination of the top bar and bottom bar to make up your frame.

  • Wedge top with Divided bottom bar frames are typically used for beeswax or wired foundation. The wedge on the top bar holds the wax sheets in place.

  • Wedge top with Grooved bottom bar frames will use wax foundation (except for crimp wire foundation with a hook) or plastic foundation. The grooves will hold the foundation in place along with the wedge top. Wedge cleat may not be needed with plastic foundation.

  • The grooved top and grooved bottom bar frames are typically used with plastic or duragilt foundation. The groove on the top and bottom of the frames allows the plastic foundation to just "snap' into place while the grooves hold the sheet in place.
    It can also hold wax foundations except the crimp wire with hooks.

Plastic frames are growing in popularity for their durability and ease of use. The foundation is embossed with a cell pattern to help the bees form waxed cells. The plastic foundation will have a thin coating of beeswax to help the bees begin drawing out comb. These frames will last much longer than the wooden frames. However, bees may draw comb more slowly on the plastic foundation than on the wax foundation.

Foundation is a sheet of plastic or beeswax with an imprinted cell design. Some beeswax foundation is preassembled with wire supports run throughout to accommodate honey filled cells. The imprinted cells will provide a starting pattern for your bees to begin drawing out comb. the thin coating on the plastic or the beeswax foundation, gives the bees enough to work with until they develop their own. 

If you plan to attempt no foundation for your frames, your bees will not have a guide to use and your frames can get messy. If you try this attempt, we recommend the use of a starter strip. For the use of a starter strip, use the wedge top to hold the strip in place. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Helping Your Hives in Winter

Your hives are prepared for winter and you are ready to relax by the fire and enjoy a nice hot biscuit with some drizzled honey on top. Now that there is nothing else you can do to help your hives for winter, you deserve that break. You have done all that you could, right?
Wrap the biscuit and fluff out the fire, there is still plenty you can do for your girls. 

    5 Things You Need to Do:
  • You may have not noticed any gusts of wind come through the bee yard during the summer but when you get hit with a 40 degree, 5 mph crosswind this winter, you will wish you had that windbreak. Imagine how bad that wind hurts your colonies. It could freeze them to death (literally). Now is the time to install that windbreak. Straw bales, shrubs, buildings, or anything that will create a barrier around your hives will help prevent those cold gusts from beating against them.

  • Your hives will need good air circulation and ventilation throughout the winter.Ensure that your hive entrances remain clear of snow or other debris and include an opening (upper entrance) at the top of your hive. Moisture is detrimental to the hive during winter and if your hive does not have a way for it to escape, it could kill your bees.

  • Insulating your hives will help against colder temperatures. This does not mean wrap your hive in insulation. Wrapping a hive can be more lethal than doing nothing. As we mentioned before and something we harp on every year, hive moisture is deadly during winter. Wrapping a hive can trap moisture and prevent it from escaping out the hive. The better option would be to use an insulated wintering board, empty super filled with straw, or even tacking on black tar paper (not covering any entrances).

  • As the bees move up through the hive they will be consuming their stores of honey. When they reach the upper chambers in the hive, have an emergency feed when they run out. Fondant or sugar candy is a great winter feed that allows the bees to consume without breaking far from cluster. They also help in reducing hive moisture.

  • Your hives can become warm housing for outside pests. During a cold winter, mice and other rodents may seek refuge inside a warm place. Place a mouse guardover the entrance to prevent pests from entering the hive and killing off your bees.

Until those days that are too cold for you to go outside are here, there is still something that can be done for you hives.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Dealing with a Weak Hive

We are often asked by new potential beekeepers if they should start with one or two hives. We recommend that beekeepers start with at least two hives if possible. This is not a ploy to try to have you spend more money, but to give you the opportunity to compare and contrast each hive. Beekeepers with more than one hive can distinguish if a hive is weak or lacks brood compared to their other hive(s). This is vital information in these final weeks of warmer weather.If you did not have the other hive to relate it to, how would you know it was weak? Would you just assume the queen had slowed her laying in preparation for winter? 

What qualifies as a weak hive? 
  • The number of adult bees: We are not asking you to count each individual bee. Count the space between the frames that include bees. Beekeepers will want to see 10 or more frames of bees (don’t count the spaces that are half full). Of course a good portion of the bees will be out foraging throughout the day so it is best to try and get a count prior or after the field force has returned.
  • Amount of brood and food stores: You will still find brood in different stages throughout the brood chamber. Beekeepers want to see 3 or 4 frames of a good brood pattern and plenty of food stores to support the hive. We always suggest 50 to 60 pounds of honey per hive to survive through winter (depending on how mild the winter is).
So what should you do now that you know your hive is weak? 

Once a colony becomes weak it can become overrun with disease and pests. These issues need to be addressed before any action can be taken in order to help your colony survive winter. By this time the colony does not have the population to fend off Small hive beetles or Wax Moths hiding in nooks and crannies. Reduce the size of the hive to something more manageable for your bees and apply traps to thwart off hive beetles. This will in turn help the current population maintain hive temperatures.

Weaker colonies do not have the number of bees to address the issue of disease in the hive. These additional bees would clean out cells, dispose of infected larvae and deliver nutrition to the younger bees. Therefore, you need to provide feed with a nutritional feed supplement to increase your colonies health and entice brood rearing. Some diseases need to run their course through the current population and hopefully the newborns will not show the same symptoms. If disease is still evident in the newer population you may need to recheck your hive’s mite count. Other diseases are more devastating and require the hive be torched (literally burn the hive). For more information on pests and diseases please visit our Pests and Disease page.

You are on the correct path to strengthening the colony. Continue feeding the colony a 2:1 ratio of sugar to water (mix in a feed supplement to help increase the colonies health) and provide a pollen substitute. Plants are not currently producing pollen and pollen is the main ingredient used to feed young larvae and the queen. Feeding the colony will stimulate the queen to increase her laying and will grow the colonies strength. Hive top or division board feeders work better when feeding in the fall. The warmth inside the hive may keep them from crystalizing and robbing bees will not be able to reach them easily. Weaker colonies are prone to experience robbing from stronger colonies and entrance feeders are easy access for robbing bees. If you must use an entrance feeder, reduce the entrance to the far edge away from feeder.

If your colony does not seem to be improving in strength you can combine it with a strong colony to help the bees survive through winter. Ensure that the weaker colony is not diseased or infested with pests. Otherwise, you may weaken the strong colony when combining. Remove the queen from the weaker colony (a very important step) and lay newspaper over the colony you wish to combine it with. Stack the weaker supers above the newspaper. The bees become acclimated with each other as they eat through the newspaper. There is no point in nursing a weak colony along in hopes that it will gain in strength. It will continue attracting pests and disease. Combining colonies in the fall can lead to strong splits in the spring.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Winter Prep for your Hives

Remember, now is the time your colony is preparing for winter. The bees reared in September and early October are the young bees the colony needs to survive winter. If they are not completely healthy, they may not survive. 

At this time of year you should be concerned about two things - mites and nutrition.

Treatments should have been applied if you had higher than normal levels of mites in you hive. It never hurts to recheck the colony once the treatments have been removed. Don’t always assume your treatment was effective. The Varroa Mite can build a resistance to some treatments if you use it year after year. Monitor your infestation levels and alternate with different medications if you find your treatment was ineffective.

It's no surprise; nutrition can either help or hinder a colony. If the colony is diseased, poor nutrition can amplify the symptoms, but good nutrition can be the elixir needed to get them through. This time of year, nectar is scarce or non-existent. Bees will forage for what is out there but beekeepers need to provide a food source to prevent starving in the hive. Be sure the bees have ample honey or syrup stored and protein!

Now is the time to prepare your feeder for the sugar water mixture or corn syrup you will be providing. Honey bees require proteins, carbohydrates, lipids, vitamins, minerals, and water. Larvae and queens are fed a diet of royal jelly secreted by young nurse bees’ hypo pharyngeal glands. This milky white acidic substance has a high moisture content and is very rich in proteins, lipids, B vitamins, C vitamins, sugars, and minerals that are not fully found in sugar water or corn syrup. There are several nutritional supplements which incorporate these needed nutrients to maintain a healthy colony. Here are some mixtures for your feed:
Honey B Healthy. This feeding supplement is used in spring and winter to stimulate the immune system. This feed stimulant with essential oils prevents mold and fungus in sugar syrup, calms bees when used as a spray, builds colonies when fed during dearth and much more. The scent of spearmint and lemongrass will attract your bees to feed almost immediately.
Amino B Booster. A blend of free amino acids that assimilates rapidly and directly through the mid gut to the bee’s hemolymph and hemocytes, then transported to the sites where protein is needed for bee growth. Amino B Booster provides your bees the nutrients they need when pollen is scarce or lacks the nutrients bees need.
Vitamin B Healthy. Helps provide needed nutrients vital for bee health especially when pollen sources are scarce or the pollen lacks the essential nutrients the bees need. Helps build strong healthy colonies for maximum honey production and pollination or can be used to help build up weak, over-winterized colonies, packages, nucs or swarms.
Hive Alive. A feed to help bees maintain colony strength. Prevents syrup from fermenting and helps bees absorb the nutrients, proteins and sugars needed to increase brood production. Hive Alive strengthens the bees’ immune system to help manage intestinal issues and other diseases.

Varroa Mite

A colonies health is as essential for winter survival as are the food stores they will need to survive. Providing the necessary feed the will need along with a good supplement will go a long way to keep your hive healthy and strong.