Start of the new Bee Season

To start off, I haven’t posted on this blog for some time, even though there would have been something to write about just after the winter solstice when I treated for Varroa. I didn’t post because what I found made me somewhat pessimistic for what I was going to find in spring. I had the feeling like if I put what I found to (digital) paper it would somehow make it more real.

Similarly visiting the bees now felt like opening the box to Schrödinger’s cat; leaving the box closed, my bees were simultaneously alive and dead. Which was preferable to what I thought I was going to find.

What I actually found was similar to the Schrödinger’s cat box; one hive was dead the other alive. Sif has survived, most likely due to the silent queen change at the end of the bee season last year. Artemis was dead while that was the productive colony from an F1 queen. I will have to come up with a new name for a possible next colony. If it keep going like this I will run out of Greek/Roman/Egyptian/Nordic gods, even though I have only lost two colonies and didn’t named the first. I guess I have quite a few gods to go through.

frame with dead bees
Frame with bees that died while burying into cells for some reason. Often a sign of starvation but stores are clear at the top of the image.

When I came to take my deceased hive home for cleaning out the rames (and perhaps a post-mortem) there were no signs of life from Sif even though other hives on the apiary were flying. The weather was to bad to open up the hive for a look. So my expectations for Sif were that they must have died since my last visit were they were flying during a day with better weather.

The remaining colony is tiny, I still have her on two brood boxes. I will reduce the space asap. I’ll try and remember to take pictures next time. The weird thing is I already found a queen cell. But as a queen will not get fertilized at this time of year (and after consulting a more experienced beekeeper) I removed the cell, which already contained quit a bit of royal jelly.  Apparently the bees are not happy with the current queen (who I didn’t get to see). I only hope it wasn’t a emergency queen cell, but this was the first time I opened the hive this year so I can’t imagine were the queen could have gone. We’ll see what the future brings for Sif.

Moisture Quilt

Moisture quilt by Herb Lester
Moisture quilt by Herb Lester via the Honey Bee Suite . Photo: Herb Lester

I had read about moisture quilts before in a cursory manner and at first thought it slightly ridiculous. But then I read an article (and then a series of articles) on a blog I read and take seriously: Honey Bee Suite. I know it may seem slightly like a “argument from authority” fallacy. But Rusty from the Honey Bee Suit seems an experienced, quite well informed and down to earth apiarist, as well as an accomplished blogger. Rusty claims:

“Of all the changes I made to my hives over the years, nothing has helped more than the moisture quilts. I’ve used quilts for five years now, and on average, I went from overwintering 50-60 percent of my hives, to overwintering 80-100 percent.”

But what I would be more interested in is knowing what percentage of the bees themselves survive the winter with or without moisture quilts. Rusty seems to have quite a large number of hives, estimating from other blog posts I’ve read, I’d say well over 10. My own two hives can hardly provide enough data to get any significant results on hive level. Thats why I’m more concerned with how many of the bees in the hive survive winter, if more survive then the hive will start the season healthier and grow faster.

queen-cell
This doesn’t look like a swarm cell to me

Sif didn’t show signs of swarming so didn’t require the making of an artificial swarm this year and had seemed to start slow in spring. Which says to me that it was a weak hive/queen to begin with. I already had a feeling that the queen was slightly sluggish in spring. I was planing on replacing her later in the season but didn’t. I have the impression that there has been a silent supersedure at the end of summer (see picture on the right) when I had started my new job and didn’t check the bees as often as I should have. I wasn’t expecting swarms so late in the season, nor did I get one. Depending on the the performance of this new queen in Sif, I will replace her with one from Artemis next season. Artemis was already a strong hive this year and I expect it to start the next season strong, the young queen comes from a pure strain mother (I forget if the mother was a buckfast or carnica). Back on topic; I’m making (actually Pieter Knorr is making them as I’m feeling slightly under the weather) moisture quilts and will report on how they seemed to perform at the beginning of the bee season next spring (The Netherlands is a quite humid place so I guess that they should do what they are supposed to). Even though it will be hard to say if any observed effect is due to the quilts or some other unknown effect(s). I have yet to see any other beekeeper in my apiary use moisture quilts but that could also be because I haven’t been looking for them. But they were also not mentioned during the beekeeper course I followed. Perhaps I will also ask a local beekeeper on the topic, even though I have no idea what to they would call these constructions locally. Andrew

Winter preperation

sugar syrup feeder
Bees feeding on the sugar syrup. The number of dead bees in the feeder is a little disturbing

I’m preparing the colonies for winter; I’ve assessed the amount of honey in the hives and the size of the colonies. There are about 7 frames of caped of honey between the two hives, perhaps 14 kilograms total. Both Sif and Artemis seem large enough to survive winter on two brood boxes. The bees need about 15 kilograms of either honey or sugar to make it through winter. Which would mean that after I divide the honey evenly between the two colonies, they both need an additional amount of about 9 kilograms of sugar in about 11 liters of sugar syrup. Then I still need to place the caped honey on the outside of the hives because caped honey is very slow to go bad and the bees spend little time at the outside of the hive. Last thing I have to remember to do is reduce the hive opening, to prevent mice and robing by other bees and wasps.

I’ve placed the (2 liter) feeders in the hives yesterday and filled them with about 2 liters of sugar syrup. I forgot to take a picture, but will add one the next time I fill the feeder, which will be in a day or two. They empty the feeder within two days. Which is extraordinary when you think about it. A bee can carry about its own body weight in honey/syrup, 0.1 gram. Which would mean that if one bee were to empty a feeder it would have to make the journey from the feeder and store it in a cell 26 thousand times… I’ll go see the day after tomorrow how far they emptied the feeders and return if they emptied them.

There are mixed reports what to do with humidity and ventilation. I’ve seen stories about constructions on top of the hive filed with wood chips to deal with humidity. But I also read somewhere else about having a sheet of plastic beneath the hive cover to provide water for the bees in the form of condensation droplets. I do’t know what is supposed to be the better choice. Likely it is dependent on climate, and I don’t know aht whould be the best strategy for the Dutch klimat. There was some fungus growth after the last winter but I read somewhere else that this is normal and should be expected.

When these preparations are finished there will be nothing for me to do, until near the winter solstice, when the bees will get their oxalic acid treatment.

I always wonder what the girl behind the supermarket checkout thinks when I come to the checkout with 9 kilograms of sugar and nothing else…

bye bye, Andrew

Edit: The bees emptied the feeder within two days, as I thought. But many bees died in the process. Perhaps that is because the second cover of the feeder is missing and the bees will enter the feeder from behind the excluder and easily drop in the syrup. I’ll order a new cover for the feeders asap, and I hope that that will help.
I left the dead bees in the feeder because bees that drop in the syrup perhaps can use the dead bees as flotation devices and crawl to safety.

Edit2: I just gave them their third serving of sugar syrup (6 liters total) and placed the second cover on the feeders so the bees couldn’t access the syrup directly and consequently fall in and drown. I talked to a fellow beekeeper visiting the apiary and he told me that he just used a tub with room for about 8 liters of syrup in which he put straw to prevent the bees from drowning. Hay would grow fungus pretty quickly (something I have already experienced) but straw wouldn’t and the bees would clean any trace of syrup from the straw. I’ll see if I can get my hands on some straw (from a local pet store or something) without turning my home into a barn, perhaps keeping the straw at the apiary would be the ticket.

AFB scare

american foulbrood
AFB, courtesy of Wikipedia

American foulbrood has been identified in two places near the city where I keep my bees, the hives infected have been cleared and there is a ban in place on moving bees within a 3 km (1.8 miles) radius around the effected hives. A little over a week ago the first two hives with AFB were found and yesterday a second outbreak was identified in a hive close to (but outside the 3 km “exclusion zone”) of the first effected hive. I read somewhere that all the hives in the apiary with an infected hive should be cleared but I can’t find clear information on this happening in these cases.

I never paid much attention to the mad cow disease and swine flue scare, but now that it actually concerns animals in which I am invested and have a vested interest I do care. Perhaps a little hypocritical of me but that is just how it is.

American foulbrood is a disease caused by the spore forming bacteria; Paenibacillus larvae, which can stay dormant in your hive for years before it becomes active. I haven’t found what can instigate an outbreak but perhaps as with DWV which will only effect hives that have been weakened by say Varroa. A healthy colony with a healthy grooming propensity can be a carrier of the disease without being effected by it.

The spores produced by this bacteria don’t effect adult bees but to young brood it is devastating. Larva can be infected by food that contains spores. Larva younger than a day are easily effected, but 4 day old larva are orders of magnitude less likely to get an infection from the spores.
Finding a weakened colony with very little open brood can indicate that the colony is infected with this disease. The hive will seem lifeless and the caps on the closed brood will have holes or tears. The “matchstick test”, poking in a cell with a torn cap, will produce a yellow brownish goo (as seen in the image at the top).

In The Netherlands informing the authorities of an AFB suspicion is mandatory. Although it is unclear to me how many beekeepers stick to that rule. I guess all the beekeepers here in the north of the country are on alert.

Hope for the best,

Andrew

(Dutch version: link)

Addition1: I visited the bees today and there was no sign of AFB in either hive, I did see a  DWV bee walking on the frame in Artemis. This might be a sign of Varroa infection but I began my treatment against Varroa when this bee was perhaps a larva (bees with DWV don’t tend to live long, they will be removed from the hive by other bees). So this is not a sign of the actual Varroa pressure at this moment, I hope. Sif which does have a bottom board to catch the mite drop did have some mites in the three weeks it was under the hive but not a ridiculous amount. Not like the first time I treated Sif a little over a year ago (no pictures).
I also did a quick assessment of the stores of both colonies to get an impression of how much I will have to feed them. I think they have about 7 frames of honey between them, Sif a little more than Artemis but I will divide the honey evenly and feed them both the same amount
of sugar syrup. I expect that about 10 kilogram sugar each should be enough to get them through winter.
I’ll post new AFB developments here.

Postscript: I talked to a more experienced beekeeper at the apiary yesterday (21/09/14) and he told me that a colony with AFB isn’t necessarily lost. What you can do, according to him, is make a “Shook Swarm” of the entire colony then leave the colony in a ventilated box for an extended amount of time till the first bees start dying from starvation.
You do this because the AFB spores live in honey surrounding the brood nest and to be sure the spores are gone the bees in the shook swarm need to burn through all the honey they have in their stomach. Then the bees will be free of AFB and you can put them into a clean hive.
This method seems somewhat iffy to me as it seems easy to either kill the colony or still leave them with honey infected with AFB, I hope I never get the opportunity to try this method.

Addition2: (07/09/14): There has been a second outbreak of AFB in a town called Exloo, which is about 50 kilometers (≈30 miles) form my home town. For me in the right direction compared to the last case which was about 16 kilometers (10 miles) away.

Addition3: (19/9/14): A third AFB outbreak has been found, this time in a Town called Stadskanaal, again about 50 k from my bees, close to the last outbreak. Still not free from the AFB scare…

Varroa explosion

Because of the nice weather in winter and spring the varroa populations have exploded. Winter treatment against varroa using oxalic acid is used during winter because that it is the only time that the colony is not expected to have any brood. A single treatment should impact all varroa as there should be no varroa protected inside caped brood cells.

But because of the mild weather this winter there is a good chance that the bees did have capped brood, most likely filled with varroa. And then there was the mild spring which gave the mites a head start in the bee season letting their population grow to new heights.
That is why this year the varroa treatments here in western Europe are especially important. Varroa can be a major cause in colony death over winter. More so than lack of food or extreme cold.

The local apiarists organisation in the Netherlands has published an article on the explosive varroa population growth. A beekeeper counted 4 times the varroa he would count in an average year. You can view a translation of the article by following this next link (in all honesty the translation isn’t all that good, but kind of readable).

I’m not sure how the varroa population is going in my hives. I’ll check the mite drop after the 5 weeks of apiguard treatment tomorrow and update this post accordingly (if the weather allows, lot of rain here lately).

Talk to you soon,
Andrew

Battling Varroa

ApiguardI’m using a, for me, new tool in my effort to combat varroa in my colonies, apiguard. You place a “serving” of apiguard on top of the top bars of the frames and leave it there for two weeks and repeat.

From the Apiguard website :

Worker bees climb into the Apiguard tray, remove the gel as a hive-cleaning behaviour and distribute it throughout the colony. The gel sticks to the bees’ body hairs and, as the bees move through the hive, particles are left throughout the hive. The worker eventually throws out the gel it is carrying, but the traces remain until they too are removed later.

The gel acts like a slow thymol release agent. Thymol is a naturally occurring substance that has proven to work as an anti varroa agent as well as being an antimicrobial and fungicidal substance.  Seeing my earlier experience with formic acid, this perhaps is a good alternative. Although I forgot to place a bottom board in the hives to see the varroa drop, thus making it hard to compare it to the formic acid treatment. But perhaps I’ll see less varroa in December when I treat with oxalic acid because of this treatment.

You do need to be done with your honey harvest because the thymol will also dissolve into the honey giving it a distinctly unpleasant taste. You should also not feed the bees while giving this treatment because the bees will be to busy with storing the feed syrup to disperse the thymol gel.

Otherwise Sif and Artemis are looking good. Next on the todo list is judging the fitness of the colonies in the light of winter survival. Will need to asses their size and food supply to estimate how much feeding they will need.

Andrew

Colony naming

The Diana of Versailles
Diane de Versailles Leochares
Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
 

As I said in my last post I wanted to name my colonies. Having thought it over and discussed it with my wife, who is more familiar with Greek mythology. I came to choose two names. I first came up with Sif for my old colony in reference to the old Nordic goddess “associated with earth”. I wanted to call the second colony in reference to a Greek goddess and my wife came up with Artemis who is in part a Greek equivalent of Sif. Artemis, from Wikipedia; is the goddess of the hunt, wild animals, wilderness, childbirth, virginity. Which apart from the first and last part I think is quite appropriate.

So in following blog posts I will be referring to the colonies under those names. (Dutch version: link)

Andrew

Quiet here -updated

I haven’t posted for a while, partly because I have a new job and partly because very little has happened with the bees. I just put on a second brood chamber and I’m still not sure if I’ll have to create an artificial swarm this season and if I’ll be using a honey chamber this year or not. I think not as it is already past the summer solstice. I’m still not so sure about this queen the colony seems to be growing very slowly, maybe I’ll remove her next month if I feel the colony is still lagging.
I met a fellow apiarist at the apiary this Friday who I hadn’t seen there before (although that isn’t saying much). He told me he had 5 hives there which were proving more work than what he had bargained for. and was willing to sell a colony to lighten his load. As I haven’t heard anything about the other colony I maybe could take over, I am anxious to get my hands on a second colony from somewhere.
Update: Well I bought a colony from the guy I mentioned above. The fellow apiarist had just taken an artificial swarm from the colony and was waiting for the new queen to start laying before selling it. Well, the queen is laying like crazy as far as I can tell. We checked the hive today and the colony, on a single brood chamber right now, is already pretty big with about 7 frames full of brood at the moment. I’ll have to add the second brood chamber pretty soon or the single brood chamber will start feeling cramped.
I’ll try to take a picture of the queen next time I see her, in my eyes she is enormous. Unmarked as of yet something I would like to start doing but that requires some . Certainly compared to the queen in my first colony. I’ll have to start naming the colonies which I have read people do, to help keep them apart on the blog. I’ll have to put some thought in that.
My first colony is still plodding along, no hurry. I think I’m going to replace the queen, hopefully with a queen from this second colony. I think I’ll remove the queen and then add a frame with eggs from the second colony, hoping that eggs from the second queen will produce a queen with a similar productivity. I wan’t to face the winter with two strong colonies.
I’ll keep you updated. (Dutch version: link)

Andrew

Replacing comb influences colony health?

The bee research group in my country, bijen@wur, organized a symposium last month which I didn’t attend. One of the speakers there was bee researcher Dennis van Engelsdorp (weirdly dutch sounding last name, translates to “English village”).  He presented statistical data from a beekeeper survey that suggested that annually replacing to much of the comb (50% or more) negatively influences colony health. Often the idea of replacing comb is to prevent buildup of pesticides and/or pathogens, but it also looks ugly blackish comb. But the data shows that beekeepers who replaced 50% or more of their comb compared to beekeepers who don’t replace any, lose more colonies over winter.

It is unclear what causes this, the survey was not comprehensive enough for any analysis like that but the data is clear. They suggest not to replace more than about 20% of your comb annually. I was aiming to replace about a third of the comb but according to this information I will have to amend that. Apparently reusing comb from old colonies is also not advised as it also caused more winter deaths. The only problem is the lack of additional information in the survey. For instance it is unclear what the origins where of the reused combs. Perhaps the old colony died of disease.

So much is unclear, it wasn’t a study but only a survey. What is clear is that you shouldn’t renew  to much of your combs annually. See the accompanying video for yourself (there is also a link to the web page in its description):