Friday, January 25, 2019

Honey Bee Winter Feeding and Management in Michigan

Checking your bees through the winter is essential to their survival, especially in the Northern climates. Contrary to popular belief, you can pop open the top cover during the winter and take a peek in at your bees. Make it a quick peek, less than 15 seconds or less. Don't bang or slam things around. Be quiet! What are you looking for? Mainly, are they visible? Cluster seen? If so, how are their stores? If I can see them at the top, I put on a sugar brick((see blog post-Easy Sugar Bricks) , right on the top bars, right over the cluster. Others use fondant, winter patties or even just straight sugar. I've even had a beekeeper tell me he used left over candy canes to feed his bees in the winter. It doesn't matter exactly what it is, as long as it is sugar, carbohydrates!! They may have honey on the side frames, but if it is too cold, they can't move over to access the honey. If they can't move over to it, they'll starve where they are. 
Another thing to look for is if it is clean and dry, take a big whiff.......Does it smell like the aromatic blend of beeswax, honey and wood that beekeepers love or is it something foul like dysentery, or rotting and decaying. Hopefully it is the wonderful smell. If it isn't.... you have a pretty good indication that your hive is sick and most likely isn't going to make it till spring. That isn't always the outcome, but makes it much more likely. 
What do you see? Top bars are clean, everything is dry..... that's a good sign. There is mold or water on the top bars.....not a good sign. Make sure your upper entrance is not plugged or that you have decent ventilation. Lots of dead bees up on the top bars or in my case on top of the queen excluder that I put my sugar bricks on.....not a good sign. Seems even if I can hear the cluster down below but find handfuls of dead bees laying up on the excluder or top bars the outcome isn't as hopeful.

Interventions...In the dead of winter, there isn't much you can do except feed sugar in one of the ways listed above and make sure the hive is well ventilated and that they have an upper entrance in case the bottom one gets blocked by dead bees. Essential overwintering actually begins in July and August by making sure their stores are sufficient and that they are free disease with low to zero varroa mite counts. The majority of my hives are July splits going into winter with queens mated the end of July. So they are smaller going into winter and are usually already at the top of my single deep box. Once January hits, I like to check them every 3-4 wks for feed. Some don't consume the bricks in that time period and don't need the replacement but others are close to or out of sugar and need replacement right away. It's hard to predict which hive will consume what, so I go through and check them all. 

Please, please, please check your bees through the winter, please put in a sugar brick or another source of sugar. It is a simple intervention that can sustain your hive until it warms up enough for the cluster to move to a frame of honey nearby or until forage becomes available in the spring again. It is such a simple thing and will save you from having to purchase bees in the spring. It makes much more sense to overwinter your own bees and make a split from them in the spring to increase your numbers. They are already well adapted to your area and have genetics that sustained them through a MI winter. 
Happy Overwintering!

Dead bees in the snow in front of the hives. Is this a good thing??.... Yes, usually. Especially if it was more than 35 degrees in recent days and the bees were able to take cleansing flights. You'll also find orange dots scattered over the snow. Evidence they've been out of the hive and able to relieve themselves until the next "warm up"

Dead bees in front of the hive scattered about, usually a good sign in the winter if there has been a slight warm up and the bees were out making cleansing flights.

This January cluster ate through most of the sugar brick, the remaining parts on the outer edges of the cluster. The tan you see on the one brick is propolis, I had flipped that brick over and added more bricks before replacing the top cover.
January Cluster up on sugar bricks.

Fresh bricks given to this larger January cluster on a 40 degree sunny day, the bees were flying in this weather. As you can see, I don't want them to run out, so stocked them up :-)

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Blooms, Berries and Bees!

When the thermometer reads 26 degrees Fahrenheit and snow blankets your hive tops it's time to look back on the summer season with fondness and appreciate the bounty we enjoyed. If you took time to can or freeze some of summer's bounty then you are still savoring summer! Thank you bees!!! This is a time to think of what you will plant in your garden next year, what plants will be attractive to honey bees and native bees alike? Both give us so much. Return the kindness and  plant a little something for them next year.  There are a plethora of plants to choose from. Here are just a few to inspire you.

Ever bearing Raspberries! This was such a fun day in August. We went raspberry picking in Fennville, MI and the raspberries were in so many stages of growth, from bloom to full, ripe ready to pick fruit. There was an incredible amount of honey bees hovering over the plants, darting here and there.  A definite BUZZ was in the air!  I was elated but most people that started picking stopped because they were afraid of the bees.  Their loss. More berries for me! I inquired to the owner about the honey bees and found out a commercial beekeeper kept over 200 colonies on this orchard property.
Honey bee on raspberry bloom. August 2018 Fennville, MI

Fresh blueberry pie made from berries that my honey bee colonies assisted in pollinating!
It was special for me to pick blueberries at my favorite little patch in Dorr, MI this year because I overwintered colonies on this property last winter and they were alive in the spring to pollinate!  Here are the results!

Blueberries that my honey bee colonies assisted in pollinating :-) this past spring. May 2018
Honey bee gathering pollen and I believe nectar also from my overgrown radish plants in the garden. August, 2018

Honeybee gathering nectar from one of my herbs, this is either oregano or thyme. August 2018

Even a simple gathering of herbs, mints, etc.. can be a blessing to bees in a dearth.

My Sunflower and Zinnias are visited by a wide variety of pollinators, from bees, to butterflies and moths, to hummingbirds and more! August 2018, Dorr, MI

My dad picking cherries, again, pollinated by bees. Caledonia, MI

Cherry pie coming right up! Thanks pollinators for the sweet treats!!

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Michigan November Woes

The woe of November is that it is here already! The second woe of November is that is has already snowed more than once!! The third woe is the sad truth that I won't be able to pull frames of bees, wonder at the elegance and beauty of a queen bee or marvel at the numerous actions and interactions happening all at once on a single frame of bees as I glance at it with the warm sun at my back shining down onto the frame......until spring 2019.
This marks the end of my fifth season of beekeeping, still a newbeee, but making new strides each season. This year I focused hard on mite counts and managing mites. I love keeping bees, but I despise keeping mites. There is no joy in doing mite counts, it can be time consuming. There is no joy in applying treatments. BUT, if you don't do either, you will not have the joy of keeping bees!

I switched over to the alcohol wash for mite counts instead of powdered sugar. I find the alcohol is much more accurate. Yes, it kills the bees. But if I'm going to take the time to do it, I want it as accurate as possible. I recently read an article in ABJ about using a white bucket lid for counting the mites in the wash. I am "excited" to try that next season. The article was written by Zac Lamas in the October 2018 American Bee Journal, titled" Bucket Lids & Mites, A Stark Reality in White & Red."

I also started doing mite counts earlier this season, starting in July, rather than the end of August. If counts were high, I treated. If not I let them be and rechecked each month. I start making splits and rearing queens as soon as the weather cooperates which is usually May. I split again in July. Because my bees get that brood break early in the spring, I haven't checked mites counts that early. However, this  coming spring 2019, I'd like to get a count on each colony when I pull the old overwintered queens. Queens coming from colonies with low counts in spring will be used as breeder queens for grafting.

Treatments. Brood breaks, oxalic dribble and oxalic vapor have been my treatments of choice. I did purchase the  Oxavap Provap 110 this year to speed up the process and have been happy with that. Please follow all safety precautions recommended when using the oxavap. It can cause severe injuries if used improperly.
Need electricity for the Oxavap Provap. This little generator from Harbor Freight worked well.


I drilled a small hole in the back of the bottom board to insert the provap into. I close it up with a golf  tee when I'm finished.

I stuff foam in the bottom entrances and tape top entrances before I start.

Golf tee inserted after finished. The bees will most likely propolize it anyways if I don't put the tee in.


The oxalic "condensed or sublimated"( not sure on correct term) on this bee on the foam at entrance when took out foam.

Me with almost all my bees, spread out to 7 yards now. If we get through winter, I'm looking forward to selling local MI nucs again this coming season.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

OTS Queen Rearing gearing up!

With our West MI "winter" in April this year, the bees are behind in brood rearing and drone production. I normally pull my overwintered queens from the hives the last week of April. It is May 8 and I still have not started OTS, On The Spot Queen rearing by Mel Disselkoen. Why? Because I like to see 8 frames of brood in my  hives prior to starting and I like to see drones flying. In most hives I  have neither yet. I could pull the queen early but it is doubtful that the daughter queens would have a successful mating because of the lack of drones. Also, if I only have 4-6 frames of brood, I can't make as many splits as I would like to. With On The Spot Queen Rearing, by Mel Disselkoen, I can  on an average hive get the "artificial swarm" (the overwintered queen and 2 frames of capped brood plus 2 shakes of nurse bees off frames) and 3 additional splits. That is 4 hives from one. I am preparing nuc boxes and getting equipment ready to start pulling my overwintered queens next week. The weather has been good for foraging and lots of pollen has been coming in.
Beautiful frame of pollen, nectar and some capped honey.

The colors of the different pollens are so vibrant and diverse!

Little gymnast collecting pollen from a willow.

Honeybee on willow collecting pollen.

Honeybee on Purple Dead Nettle. I am told this is a source of red pollen for the bees, but I didn't see any red pollen this day. 

Beautiful Spring day finally!! 15/15 made it through the winter in this yard!

Friday, April 27, 2018

OTS Queen Rearing and making successful splits in the Bahamas!!

Many beekeepers I come into contact with are amazed that I am able to make so many successful splits with my honeybees. They frequently ask how I do it. I tell them I use Mel Disselkoen's method. On The Spot Queen Rearing. I was mentored by Mel himself so I have a pretty good handle on how the process works. I was recently invited to the Bahamas to assist a Bahamian newbee split her 3 hives. A fellow beekeeper and myself took the challenge and spent a little over a week on the Bahamian Island of Andros, North Andros to be exact. While there we were able to take her 3 hives and multiply them into 12. We also did a couple cut outs to give her a total of 14 hives prior to returning to the US.
Our hostess wants 50 hives, she is prepared with ALL the equipment already!

The dark brown area in the middle of the building is the entrance for the colony that we are preparing to cut out.

Power tools come in handy :-)

Beautiful comb and colony!

Removing the comb piece by piece.

Bottom row removed, now for the top combs.

Our second cut out. This one was much simpler as we didn't have to remove walls to get to it. The bees had made themselves a lovely little home in the field in the empty boat motor cover.

We decided it would be easiest to work at it if we moved it away from the site by 20ft or more. Less foragers to deal with this way. We put a sheet under it before we moved it because it was 88 degrees and we were worried the combs might detach and fall to the ground when we lifted it up.

Inside the boat motor cover. No combs came detached during the short move :-)
Cutting the comb and rubber banding it into frames. They honey combs were kept separate. We used a bee vacuum to suck up the bees into a hive body.

The queen of the boat motor cover!! Beautiful Big Bahamian Queen!! Bottom edge of the comb. She is twice the length of the other bees and very dark.

Mmmmmm....the bee vacuum. I am not mechanical, but we figured out how to get it together. Uses a shop vac motor and sucks the bees right into a deep body hive box. Very convenient for cut outs. Much easier to work with the combs once the bees are out of the way.

Putting together the bee vacuum.
Walking through the jungle trail  in North Andros, Stafford Creek.

The locals call this a grape seed tree. The bees were all over it, what a contented buzz in such a beautiful setting. This was on the beach at Forfar Field station, across the road from where we were staying.

Honey bee on bloom of Grape seed tree.

Some of our splits at "base camp" The weather was incredible. Never dropped below 70 degrees at night and was up to 90 degrees during the day. Love me some sunshine!!
The dangerous terrain we had to work on.  These are small holes, some so large we could fall in. The locals told us crabs live down in the holes and when it rains in May, all the crabs come up on to land and they have a big Crab Fest on the Island.

A virgin queen in the middle of the comb.

Beware of you screened bottoms. This virgin queen ended up on the underside of the screen and couldn't figure out her way back to the entrance. We had to help her back into the hive.

My helpers, Linden and El Torro, gathered dry pine needles for my smoker.

My best bee buddy, Mary and myself.

Riding in the bed of a truck on the highway holding a hive together from the cut out we did. It's totally normal to see people riding in the back of vehicles here. No laws against it. That was fun.

Getting ready for our last day of bee work in the Bahamas.

Our code names are Heather Bee Blond and Mrs. Bee Mizzle! Yup, we're nuts and loving it!

Never thought I'd be pulling honey frames on April 3!! Only in the Bahamas!! This was our first evening there at dusk.

For fun, I never get to wave palm fronds around in Michigan!

A good morning from our Michigan mitten, our first Bahama sunrise.
Me photographing honey bees working the palms before the sunrise. These bees in the Bahamas have it made!!

What it looked like when I returned home to MI on April 13. Love Michigan!