Tag Archives: mites

Winter Hive Prep.

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Winter’s not here yet, but it is time to think about preparing your hives for winter here in the high desert of Central Oregon.  If you have staggered the hive boxes to help with summer ventilation, such as in the picture above, its time to close them up if you have not already done so.

Most importantly its time for a hive check to see if your bees have enough stores for winter.  Big strong hives will have put away plenty of extra honey making it possible for you to share in the bounty.  BUT WAIT!  Check your other hives first.  If you have made some late season splits or simply have a hive that has not done as well as you would hope, pull some frames of honey from the strong hives and share it with the weaker hives.  That way everyone is set for winter.

If your hives are low on stores and you need to feed, you want to feed a 2 to 1 mixture of sugar and water.  Two parts sugar to one part water.  Takes lots of stirring and hot water!

This is also the time of year the mite populations peak.  Do a mite count and see how your hives are doing.  One way to do a mite count is with a powdered sugar roll.  Collect one cup of bees and add them to a pint jar that is then capped with a screened lid.  Through the screen add a heaping tablespoon of powdered sugar.  Roll the jar to coat the bees and then let the jar sit for one minute.  After a minute, take the jar and shake out the powdered sugar (and mites) into a pan with a very shallow layer of water.  The water will melt the powdered sugar and reveal the mites.  Count your mites.

There is about 300 bees in a cup and you divide your mite count by 3 to get mites per 100 bees – or a percentage.  Anything over 5 percent and you may want to treat.  If you have been following along with my blog you know we don’t use chemical miticides in our hives.  Instead we create brood breaks to control mites and use essential oils.  If you must use a miticide, I suppose the Mite Away Quick Strips (MAQS) would be a choice to make as they are an organic acid that is corrosive, not toxic, thereby killing the mites physically and giving them little chance to build resistance.  Beware though!  A respirator is suggested use when applying this treatment and you would not want to apply the MAQS when temps are expected above 85 or you may harm the queen.  MAQS are effective but they are expensive and somewhat hazardous to apply.

If you prefer a softer, natural approach, use food grade organic essential oils.  Its not a silver bullet and not an immediate kill like the MAQS, but it is organic and will help to control your mites.  To make a concentrate, add 1 teaspoon of Wintergreen oil, 3/4 teaspoon Tea tree oil, a few drops of spearmint and a few drops of lemongrass oil to one cup of water in a blender and run on low for five minutes.  When done add this to a half gallon jar of water.  This is your concentrate.  When you feed this to the bees you add one cup of the concentrate to one gallon of 2 to 1 feed.

If your creating brood breaks during the season and following up with essential oils, you will lose very few hives to mites without using chemicals.

Dog Days of Summer – And Honey Too!

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That’s the Burls!   And Burly Dog thinks its just too stinking hot to be doing much outside.  (over 100 the last couple days)  So I’m writing this little piece instead.

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That there is a beautiful jar of comb honey!  I’m about half way through my honey harvest this year and this comb is cut from a foundationless frame of honey comb.  Using a foundationless frame gives you a deeper comb.

It’s also time for some mite control.  If you’ve been reading this blog for very long you already know that Worker Bee Honey is entirely free of miticides.  (Insecticides used in the bee hive to kill mites – I mean really, who wants an insecticide in their honey?  Those who purchase store bought honey???)  Anyway, the best and most natural way to control mites is to split your hives, thereby eliminating the mites food supply for approximately 30 days and achieving nearly a 100 percent mite kill.  I’ve already done that with most of my hives this year but for those I did not split I am going to feed some essential oils.

I do this twice a year, spring and late summer/fall, but this time of year the yellow jackets are on the prowl and feeding a syrup can encourage robbing.  So I’m going to share with you an essential oil recipe for making patties.  You may wonder about feeding right now.  Well most people do wait until a little later, but think about it.  If you did a mite count right now you are likely going to find a high count in the hives you did not split.  Mites bring disease and sometimes the hive is succumbing to the diseases the  mites bring long before the mites bring down the hive.  No reason to let those little buggers run around in your hive any longer than necessary.  Even though everything used in the essential oil mixture is organic, food grade, I do this after I have harvested the honey I’m going to take from the hive.

After much digging and research on the web I have found patty recipe that delivers approximately the same level of essential oils as the syrup recipe I have been using, with some minor differences.  This recipe makes 20 to 25 patties depending on how large you make each of them.

  • 3 Pounds of cane sugar  (Use cane sugar because beet sugar is from GMO beets in the US)
  • 1 Pound of Shortening (Organic Palm oil works well, but if you don’t have it available use an organic vegetable shortening)
  • Spearmint  5 3/4 teaspoon
  • Thyme  5 3/4 teaspoon
  • Tea Tree  3 3/4 teaspoon
  • Lemon Grass  7.5 teaspoon  (All of these are food grade of course)
  • 3 Tablespoons Honey (from your own hives)
  • 1 Tablespoon of Vinegar
  • 4 Tablespoons of Nozevit  (Produced from certified organic plant material)  It restores the natural PH and elasticity in the bees mid gut and contains probiotics that help bees digestion.)  Helps prevent and control nosema.

Mix the essential oils into the sugar, either by hand or with a hand mixer.  Then add the honey and vinegar.  (white vinegar or organic apple cider)  Vinegar brings the PH of the mixture closer to the ph of honey which makes it easier for the bees to digest.  Then add the Nozevit.  Finally, add the shortening.  Mix until the mixture is smooth and there are no lumps.  There should be just enough shortening to hold the mixture together.

I like to make the patties in the kitchen and lay them out between layers of wax paper, then take however many I need depending on the bee yard I’m going to visit.  Makes 20 to 25 patties depending on how large you make them.  If you don’t want to use syrup this fall, then give this recipe a try.

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That’s a frosty adult beverage.  It probably looks pretty good right now if your hiding out inside the house with the a/c on waiting for cooler temps before you mix up your patties and go to the bee yard.

Cheers!

Preparing your Hive for Winter

Its been a busy few weeks.  The honey has been harvested from my local hives and this last weekend we traveled to some hives we have out of town.  There I put on a class and harvested a small amount of honey from some newly established hives.  Our demonstration included use of an old hand crank extractor that had been converted to a variable speed motorized extractor.  We also demonstrated the crush and strain method.  When I was first starting out a wise old beekeeper once told me not to spend the hundreds of dollars it takes to purchase an extractor until I knew for sure that beekeeping was what I wanted to do.  Its good advice and I recommend it to anyone just getting into beekeeping.  I still use the crush and strain method today as I enjoy this authentic way of obtaining my honey.

This time of year, (at least in the northern climates) your bees will likely have kicked out all the drones (I watched one being tossed out just the other day) and have filled all cracks (and everywhere else it would seem) with propolis in preparation for winter.  When temps drop below 54 to 57 the bees will from a cluster around the queen in the brood chamber.  The cluster of workers maintains a temp of about 92 degrees.  The bees eat while in the cluster and move around as a cluster.  When temps drop below 40 to 45 they are unable to move about but stay warm in the cluster by shivering their wings.  Bees wont defecate in the hive and will hold off until it is warm enough (45 to 50) to make cleansing flights.  (Another reason you don’t want chemicals in your hive.)  The queen will stop laying for a period of a few weeks in the winter.  The workers live much longer (months instead of weeks) in the winter because they are not flying very much.

If you find your bees do not have enough stores for winter (at least 40 to 50 pounds of honey) you can feed them a 2-1 mixture of sugar to water.  As long as the weather is warm they will be able to take this in a store it.  There is a recipe of essential oils at the bottom that helps with hive health and controls mites.

If your hive is in an exposed or windy site, you might consider moving it against a south facing wall where the wall will give off heat during the night.  You could also shield the hive from the prevailing wind by putting up some protection with hay bales.  Some people wrap their hives in tar paper which gets warm in the sun and helps to heat the hive.  I’m not convinced this is necessary and some folks can even get into trouble doing this by closing up the hive to tightly so their is not enough air flow to remove moisture from the hive.  Sometime they also end up blocking the entrance to the hive.  A prudent middle ground for those who want to use tar paper would be to place a couple layers of it across the top of the hive, held down with a rock.

You will also want to tilt your hive forward so that moisture which accumulates on the inner cover does not drip down onto the bees.  This condensation dripping onto your bees will kill them.  To accomplish this place blocks of wood that are 3/4 of an inch to one inch thick under the back of your hive.  Another thing that helps with ventilation is to glue popsicle sticks to the underside of the corners of your inner cover.  This allows a gentle flow of air through the hive that will assist in removing the moisture that is generated when your bees consume their honey stores over the course of the winter.

Finally, add a mouse guard.  Mice love the warm, protected environment of a hive, but you wont appreciate the kind of damage they can do.

Below is the recipe for mite control and hive health.

Concentrate Mixture – To one cup of water add 1 teaspoon of wintergreen essential oil and 3/4 of a teaspoon of Tea Tree oil.  The wintergreen will kill mites and the tea tree oil works as an anti-bacterial.  (Mites bring bacteria into the hive with them and cause disease)  Blend this mixture in a blender on low speed for 5 minutes.  Then add the concentrate to a half gallon container and fill with water.

Feed your bees a 2-1 sugar water mixture for 3 to 4 weeks (you don’t  need to have feed in front of them day in and day out, just feed a couple times a week).  When you mix your sugar water add one cup of your essential oil mixture (from your half gallon container) to one gallon of sugar water mix.

 

Don’t Bee That Guy!

Have you been thinking about keeping bees? Its all the rage you know, why not jump in – and therein lies the problem.

Today I was at the Quickie Lube place in town getting the oil changed in my car. I always get there early and there was just one other person in the waiting room when I arrived. This old boy was reading some “Hollywood people” magazine – gotta keep up with all those trendy people you know – NOT!

A few minutes later a woman came in and sat down between the two of us. It just so happens that I know her because I have beehives at her place. She’s a lovely lady whose dealing with some tough issues and we soon began a conversation. Before long the conversation turned to the bees and the honey we can expect to get from the hives at her place. That’s when “Mr. Hollywood” puts down his magazine and joins the conversation we were having. “Oh, I had bees. Damn things died on me. I put them in my greenhouse and they died.” He went on to express his frustration with the bees and then added that even the plants in his greenhouse had died. Couldn’t have been any neglect involved here now could there? NAW!

Later on the fella working at the Quickie Lube place came in and began running through the issues with “Mr. Hollywood’s” car. I overheard enough to know there was virtually no coolant in the radiator (not the reserve tank but the radiator itself) and the oil level didn’t even register on the dipstick (the one in the car).

Does that not tell you all you need to know!?

Folks, if your thinking of keeping bees please take stock of the time commitment it requires. Read, read, read and learn about what you are committing to before you jump in. Don’t be this guy.

A few years ago I was at a local bee club meeting and the old timers were expressing concern over all the folks jumping into beekeeping. While they wanted to see more people keeping bees they were concerned it was a fad and that the resulting abandoned hives would soon die out and be left sitting abandoned in a backyard somewhere. The problem with that is it wont be long before other bees find the hives and begin to rob them. If disease was the reason the hives died out, its likely the disease would be transmitted back to healthy hives simply because the “fad owner” couldn’t be bothered to be responsible with the care of his bees or even the removal of the deadout hives.

As much as I want to see more folks involved with bees, please take stock of what it takes to be actively involved in the management of your bees. If your honest with yourself and realize you cannot commit the time required then don’t get them. Our bee populations have enough issues to deal with. On the other hand, if you don’t have the time required to responsibly manage your bees, find someone who is looking for another beeyard and let them hive bees on your place. You’ll get some honey out of the deal but wont have to commit to the time and work required to properly care for your bees.

For the bees sake, don’t bee Mr. Hollywood.

In the more down to earth world of bee keeping, I’ve just about finished the harvest of my first two honey supers for a total of 4 gallons of the best honey around! I say that because it is chemical free and the bees draw from so many sources of nectar around our place that the result is the most unique blend of flavors you can imagine. The process I use to extract the honey is called crush and strain. No heat is used and no filtering to remove the pollen takes. Many people don’t realize both of these actions occur with commercial honey. Some where down the line I will try to find time to cover just what crush and strain is. There is no need to buy that $400+ extractor to get the honey your bees make for you. Until then enjoy your summer and remember – Don’t Bee That Guy described in this article.

The Queen of Hearts, Hives and Frustration

What a terrific weekend we had at the Meadow of Lavender in Colton Oregon this weekend for the Oregon Lavender Festival. There was an excellent turnout and I’m sure everyone enjoyed themselves as they learned about the lavender products and how they are made. We also had excellent attendance at the bee classes I held and in each class people suited up in the spare bee suits that were available and had a look in the hives for themselves. My thanks to all those who attended.

In the first class the attendees had the opportunity to see first hand how a hive requeens itself in a process called supercedure. At the bottom of one of the frames we removed from the hive were two queen cells, about four inches apart. One cell was opened at the very bottom, the other was opened from the side. The first cell was the one the queen hatched from. When a new queen hatches the first thing she does is dispatch with any other queens in the hive. The other queen cell demonstrated how that is done. The new queen chews through the side of the cell and stings to death the queen that has yet to hatch.

After looking the queen cells over and discussing what happened we continued our inspection of the hive and found lots of newly laid eggs and tiny larvae. Though we did not see the queen herself, it was apparent she has been very busy since hatching and completing her mating flights.

This brings me to the point of this post. There has been a lot of trouble with queen failure this year. This is an issue that has been building for the past number of season and appears to have finally landed with a crash this year. In reading the various forums it appears to be a fairly widespread occurrence. My own experience with this has even been greater than most are reporting. In April I purchased 9 new packages of bees. Six of nine packages, have lost queens, some more than once, as in the hive we inspected in class. The queens that came with the packages are soon replaced and then the new queen fails and is replaced again. This leads to weak hives and I am about to lose one of my new hives because they have grown weak and failed to raise a new queen.

Of course there are a number of different view points, but one that makes a lot of sense has to do the problems queen producers have had with insect growth regulators that have been put on during the bloom with fungicides, mostly in California. All of my packages came from California so I don’t believe its a coincidence my new packages are failing. There can also be a lack of genetics and diverse drone sources in the large commercial producers that contribute to the problem.

With nearly $100 dollars invested in each package I have reached the conclusion it is no longer feasible to purchase commercially available packages. If you are considering acquiring bees next season I would recommend against using a commercial outlet to get your bees. There is simply too much at risk and if your just starting out who wants the trouble and disappointment of losing hives. Many newbees would be left thinking it was something they did. As I stated in my classes this last weekend, I am interested in new beeks (beekeepers) having success, therefore, after having lost nearly 70 percent of the queens that came in the new packages I purchased this year I can only suggest that you avoid the commercial outlets. I mean really – who wants to spend all the money it takes to set up new hives and acquire the equipment you need, just to get inferior bees that don’t have a good chance of making it.

So what’s the alternative? Go with locally produced nucs. Nuc is short for nucleus hive. Normally you get four frames of bees and a frame of stores, but the fours nucs that a friend and I purchased this year came stuffed with five full frames of bees. All four are doing well and have not experience the requeening/supercedure issues that the packages have experienced. The advantage of a nuc is that you have a queen who has been laying and producing for weeks, if not months, before you purchase it. This miniature hive is established and well on its way with a queen that has proven she is healthy. Yes, nucs often cost a bit more, but the premium you pay is well worth it if you are getting a healthy queen instead of a poor commercially produced queen that will be replaced nearly as soon as you put her in the hive.

So if you are looking at beginning beekeeping next season or if you want to add to the hive or hives you already have, now is the time to begin to locate local beeks that will have nucs to sell next season. Find out about their practices and the success rate of their nucs. Get to know them and their products. Ultimately you should come out far ahead with a nuc over a package of bees.

And for you beeks with a season or two under your belts, learn to split your own hives and make your own increase. Splitting a hive is not difficult and far less expensive. If you have yet to do it, then consider it your next step along the path of beekeeping.

Until next time my best to all of you and may you only know the queen of hearts when it comes to your own hives.

Meadow of Lavender link – http://meadowoflavender.com/

Time for a Mid-Season Evaluation (and how to stay chemical free)

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The summer solstice has come and gone and I bet you didn’t know that your bees have taken note of it.  Well, at least your queen has.  Just as the passing of the winter solstice causes the queen to increase her egg laying, the summer solstice will cause the queen to begin to reduce her egg laying.  Of course In a healthy hive you wont notice.  With numerous frames heavy with brood yet to hatch it might seem crazy to think numbers are going to fall and in reality they wont for a while.  But that doesn’t mean the queen is not reducing her egg laying in preparation for fall/winter.  Hang on for a moment and you will see how this relates to managing your hives.

The other day I went out to the beeyard and did an evaluation each hive and its chances to produce honey this year.  Keep in mind we have a very short growing season here in the high desert and in two months time, around the first of Sept., Frosty Jack is going to be making the first of many visits.  Some hives are already working on honey supers, others are filling the second box with stores for winter and will get their honey super in a few weeks.  Still others are behind, having fought against a variety of issues.  Its interesting to note that most the hives producing honey are first year hives and most the hives that have struggled with different issues are second and third year hives.  There are exceptions of course.

After completing my evaluation of each hive I made note of those that will produce honey for me to collect and those that most likely wont.  Those that are not going to produce honey are being used to produce more bees by splitting them.  I used a couple different methods to split the hives.  Some hives were simply split into two hives and a couple were split three ways.  You do not need to locate the queen when making this kind of split.  What is needed are eggs, brood, nurse bees and most importantly, young larvae less than 36 hours old.  Basically its the smallest larvae you can see.  Begin by setting a new hive box next to the existing hive.  Find frames as described above and make sure each hive gets one or two of them.  Then split the frames of brood and also the frames of pollen and honey stores evenly between the two hives.  In ten frame boxes you will place the frames in the middle of the box and then add five new frames on the outside of them to complete the hive box.  If one hive obviously has more bees than the other, take one frame from the hive with more bees and shake the bees into the new hive.

Place the new hive in the new location you have already decided on.  You should not have to worry about more than just a few of the bees drifting back to the old hive if you made the split in the afternoon when most of the field bees are away from the hive.  They will of course return to the original hive but the frames of brood, larvae and eggs you placed in the new hive will have been covered with nurse bees soon to mature and become field going bees.  This is why you make sure at least one frame of stores is put into each hive so the bees have feed until the hive has its own field bees.

By the time you are done making the split you will likely know which of the two hives does not have a queen as it will produce quite the roar while the hive with the queen will be comparatively calm.  The hive without a queen will begin raising up new queens out of the young larvae and in about 30 days the hive will have a newly mated queen fast at work.  Now remember that summer solstice thing we were talking about?  The new queen has not experienced the summer solstice and she will go to work laying eggs like a queen coming out of winter – just like a spring queen preparing for summer.  She will be so productive that she will lay eggs faster than the mites can keep up with, thereby staying ahead of the mites. 

There are two other benefits to making a split around July 1.  In the 30 days the hive is queenless, the mite population will plummet because they have no young larvae to feed on.  This “brood break” is key to controlling mites in the hive naturally.  The other benefit is that the bees will have no new young to raise.  New bees require large amounts of feed and during the 30 days the hive is queenless the feed normally used to raise up young bees will be stored as honey.  Ultimately you will have a strong hive with lots of stores and a powerful young queen to lead the hive into the winter months.   

There are probably hundreds of ways to split a hive and I have covered only one of them here.  A swarm I caught this spring is not going to produce honey but they have filled the first box and looking strong and healthy.  I split that hive three ways.  The obvious question that comes up is how do you control mites in the hive that contained the original queen?  With fewer bees in the hive after the split it will be easier to find the queen.  If you dispatch this queen the hive will achieve the same “brood break”, thus destroying the mite population in the hive and replacing the old queen with a vibrant new young one.  Obviously there will be times you want to keep a queen because she is productive, produces calm bees and has shown some resistance to mites.  I have one hive like this and have been making splits from this queen since May.  The first split in May is now about halfway through filling the honey super that will be honey for me.  While the hive was queenless they produced a huge amount of honey and filled most of the second box.  Then the new queen began laying huge amounts of brood just like a young queen does.  So here we are in the early days of July and I already have a honey super that is about one-third full!

Key points to remember-

1. The queen responds to the summer and winter solstices.

2.  A brood break is the natural way to controlling mites in your hives.

3.  A queen produced after the summer solstice will lay like a spring queen and rear a strong hive for winter.

I hope your bees are doing well and that you are enjoying the summer.  Not sure when I will be able to post next as it is summer afterall.  There are lots of summer projects, vacations to take and in about 10 days I will be holding three classes over the course of two days on a lavender farm during Oregon States Lavender festival. 

Cheers!

 

Attracting Bees and Pollinators

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Seems every year I’m planting a few more things that are good for the bees and this year is not different.  Certainly there are many annuals out there that the bees enjoy, such as bachelor buttons and I have them scattered all around the place.  They readily reseed themselves and are a welcome, if sometimes overly prolific variety.  But when it comes to selecting plants for the bees I keep, I always plant perennials.  Last year it was caryopteris, (dark knight) a purple flowered plant that blooms late in the season.  Here in the High Desert of eastern Oregon we are very dry and we sometimes approach a dearth of food for the bees in the hot days of August.  So when selecting plants to attract bees think about when they flower.  You don’t want them to all bloom early in the spring and then be done.  Sedums are also excellent plants that bloom late and the bees just love them.

So what to add this year?  Well I did add one more caryopteris simply because the bees love it and it blooms until the first frosts shut it down, but what new plants could be added?  I decided on three different ones to add more diversity and a variety of pollen types for the bees to make use of.  Pollen is nearly perfect food and contains the protein, amino acids and enzymes the bees need to live – yes they do eat more than just honey.  Each type of pollen offers the bee varying levels of the various amino acids and enzymes they need.

The first new plant to go in was an elderberry.  This plant can grow to ten feet tall and produces clusters of white flowers in the spring.  Yes, it is the same plant that produces berries that can be eaten or used for elderberry wine.  The second plant was Agastache otherwise known as hyssop.  It can smell a bit like licorice and is often used as an herb in soups, stews and salids, though use it sparingly.  The pink/red flowers bloom in late summer, adding to my collection of plants that will provide a food an nectar source for my bees during the hottest and driest time of year.  Once established the plant is a drought tolerant, low maintenance plant that butterflies like in addition to the bees.  The plant does best in our part of the world if not pruned until late spring after the last of our frosts.  The third plant I selected also adds to the selection of food available to my bees late in the season and that is goldenrod.  This plant blooms for a long time and is another the butterflies enjoy.  It grows up to about 18 inches and its lemon yellow flowers are a refreshing break from the summertime “browns” that begin to dominate when the temperature hovers around 100 degrees.  This is another hardy plant that once established needs only occasional watering.

As you can tell, I have focused mainly on adding plants that bloom late in the season.  If you keep bees or plan on getting them, take a mental inventory of when your area may be lacking in flowering plants.  We have tons of fruit tree blossoms in the spring as well as many other plants.  When the spring time bloomers have done their thing the raspberries come along and they bloom for the rest of the season.  If there is one thing you could plant that the bees just love and is available to them for most of the season, it would be raspberries.  Not to mention you get a delightful treat out of the deal yourself.

So there’s a short run down on some plants I have added to the yards just for the bees.  The list is long and there are many other plants to choose from, just one word of warning.  Bees rely on these plants for resin, nectar and pollen.  Most of the plants you get at the big box stores are full of GMO and neonicatinoid contamination and are best avoided as there is mounting evidence of the detrimental effect these compounds have on honeybees and butterflies.  Obtain our plants from a known source.  Get to know someone at a local nursery who can tell you where the plants came from and if they are poisoned with neonicatinoids or not.  It will be better for you, especially if your eating your bees honey and better for the bees as well, so that you get to share in the sweetness of their efforts.

As always I hope these articles help you understand more about honeybees and make you a more successful beekeeper yourself.
The photo is from Curlew photo and if you like it you should check them out at the link on the right hand side.