Second Apiguard treatment

Community Veggie Garden

Just a short update.

Because the weather was lousy here for a few days. There even was some record number of nonstop rain hours, 60, which apparently this is not unheard of in autumn, winter or spring but quit rare for summer. Anyway, the rain prevented me from continuing the Apiguard treatment, replacing the tray for a new one. Saturday was cold-ish so I thought “I’ll do it tomorrow in between showers”…but there was no “in-between”.

I think I already mentioned that I was missing a honey super from the bee stand but now I’m also missing a syrup feeder. I’ll contact the beekeepers society that exploits the apiary. I’m thinking that maybe I should take my bees somewhere else and not store my stuff at the bee stand. My wife started a community vegetable garden close by, which has a garage close by where we get our water from. On top of this garage I can place the bees. That way none of the gardeners or visitors (both of which a surprising number of which will be afraid of getting stung) will be directly confronted by the bees.

The drones in the above video are desperate for a meal, there were a lot visiting the colony. I don’t know if my girls are one of the last to continue to feed them, I didn’t notice as many at the other hives. In dutch they call the cession of feeding the drones “de darren slacht” which literally translates to the drone slaughter even though the workers don’t actually kill the drones they at most drag them out of the hive and refuse to feed them. I don’t know what the official English term for this behavior is, anyone? Compared to many solitary bees the honey bee male has is easy, he gets fed and is welcomed everywhere. Many solitary bees have to defend a range against intruders and other males. They don’t get free room and board or they get lucky on a date with a queen. They just work their ass of and if they are lucky, get to mate with a number of commoners…

FYI, I reduced the hive entrance before I left so the girls don’t have defend such a large opening against wasps and robber bees.


Apiguard, Varroa treatment

apiguard in hive and hive lacation

Just a short quick update this time.

I’ve just gave the bees their first Apiguard tray, which will start the end of summer Varroa treatment in preparation for winter. I’m a little early this year but as I tend to be late so this year I choose to be early. It is also quit convenient to start the treatment on the first day of the month which coincidentally happens to be a Saturday, perfect. So the tray will need to be replaced on the 14th and the second and last tray will stay with the bees till they are finished with the stuff.

Although I will probably remove the tray beginning of the next month, assess the hive and start feeding soon after, perhaps in the middle of august. That should give me and the bees plenty of time to complete the winter preparations before the weather starts to deteriorate.

I’m borrowing a honey super from a fellow beekeeper (I tend to not paint flowers on my hives…) as my super has vanished from the apiary. It looks like the colony that was in this hyve has either died or the beekeeper found a more suiting hive…

First time going into winter with just one hive….we’ll see.


Winter Colony Loss

I’ed  like to discuss two scientific articles on the possible cause of colony loss over the winter period (referred to as colony collapse disorder (CCD) in English speaking countries). The first article was published in the peer reviewed online publication PLOS ONE this month.

In this study the researchers (and the beekeepers) collected and analysed data from a total of 86 colonies using the following scheme (abbreviated copy from the article);

  • During the last week of July 2011; >35 forager bees were collected from the closed hive entrance and tested for Nosema spp. presence.
  • During the first 2 weeks of August 2011 a sample of 50 bees was taken– 25 from frames with brood and 25 from frames without brood for pesticide residue analysis.
  • A minimum of 30 bees were sampled in an identical way for virus analysis.
  • Further a minimum of 50 cells with bee bread were sampled for pesticide and palynological (determine plant species from pollen) analysis.
  • Mature and half-ripe honey was sampled from each colony for pesticide residue analysis.
  • During the last week of July 2011 and last week of October 2011 approximately 200–250 bees per colony were sampled by the beekeeper for varroa infestation analysis.

From the analysis of these 6 data points the researchers come to a number of results some of which I’ll discuss here.

A weird result presented in the “Losses related to plant species” paragraph, seems the correlation between the presence of rapeseed and field mustard pollen in bee bread and colony loss over the winter period. Although this may be attributed to the higher prevalence of these species in rural areas where other factors will be prevalent, factors like neonicotinoids and other pesticides. Still, this is a weird result as wild mustard seed, for instance, is often included in seed mixtures advertised as bee friendly. I suspect it must be a “correlation does not imply causation” issue.

An other result that I thought surprising was under the “Virus and Nosema spp. related losses” heading. The study didn’t find a correlation between the presence of various viruses or Nosema and winter colony loss. I would have thought that there would be a clear connection between some viruses and CCD. Deformed wing virus (DWV) has a connection to Varroa destructor [link]. So if a colony has a high prevalence of DWV, it is safe to assume there is a Varroa infestation. The study did find a strong link (p<0.001) between Varroa mite load (in October) and winter colony loss, presented under the heading “Varroa mite related effects”. Nothing surprising about that result.

A result that is perhaps not as surprising is that the study found a link between neonicotinoids (neonics) and CCD. The study makes a distinction between where the neonics were found. The link was found in colonies where the neonics were found in either the honey or in the bees but not when it was found in the bee bread. That last result I think is slightly surprising as bee bread is fed to developing bees. Apparently neonic presence during development isn’t important but only neonic levels in adult bees is important.

The study concludes that the presence of Varroa mites the hives is the most important indication when it comes to winter colony loss or CCD and neonics second then rape/mustard seed then hive location.

The second article is slightly older (2014),  from the publication Bulletin of Insectology. I must say that the publications website doesn’t really inspire much confidence. Beside that, the scale of the study doesn’t really allow to be very confident on the verisimilitude (I like that word) of the conclusions. However I do wish to include the conclusions, you can read the article and you come to your own conclusions on the trustworthiness of the article.

Long story short the article comes to the conclusion that two neonicotinoids alone are capable of causing CCD. When six different hives were each given nonlethal doses of one of the two different neonics, those hives either didn’t survive winter or came out of winter crippled. Compared to six other hives that were treated “normaly”.

There was no difference between the two groups of colonies over the bee season and the lead up to winter, but during winter the difference was drastic. The authors pose that the differences are significant. The study doesn’t check for Varroa on the bees themselves and treats all the colonies equally for Varroa, so in essence removes the Varroa from the equation. The study gives me the impression that the conclusion was built into the design of the research.

I think I have more confidence in the results/conclusion of the first study. Not that I think that neonics/pesticides don’t play an important part but I don’t think there was ever any doubt about that. Beekeepers have little control over neonics but they are able to do something about Varroa. So I guess that is where beekeepers should focus their attention, I know I try to.


Other articles:
Multiple Routes of Pesticide Exposure for Honey Bees Living Near Agricultural Fields
Bee Experts Dismantle Touted ‘Harvard’ Neonics-Colony Collapse Disorder Study As ‘Activist Science’

Chemical Free New Varroa Treatment

Okay I don’t know if it is actually new, the method is so simple that I can’t imagine that no one has ever used this before. There was an article in the monthly magazine given out by the Dutch national beekeepers association about this new Varroa treatment. I had not yet heard of it, it sounds quite intuitive.


In this new Varroa treatment you would wait till after the last honey harvest so this time table is dependent on when you finished that. Starting too late will perhaps impact the rearing of winter bees. With this treatment, say in the first week of July, the queen should be caught. Then trapped between two queen excluders in a honey super with at least 5 drawn frames at the bottom of the hive. Two weeks later the frames with brood should be removed and replaced with new drawn frames. A week after this, the queen excluders should be removed. A week later still you should remove the frames with closed brood along with the the honey super.


Now the idea behind this method should be quite evident and seems simple. You don’t give the varroa any other place to hide accept in the brood, trapped in the supper with the queen. By taking away the brood you, over a number of weeks, take away most if not all Varroa mites.


The only drawback of this method I see, is that this would impact the bee population quite dramatically. You would essentially be removing almost 4 weeks of new bees from the hive. The reasoning behind this method according to the article was that treatment with formic acid takes a hefty toll on the bees. Living in the fumes of 80% formic acid for over 3 weeks can’t be fun. I should know, I got 80% formic acid in my face once and let me tel you, that wasn’t pleasant.

So I guess all methods of treatment have drawbacks and you should go by you’re own experience. But with the number of colonies I have (uhm…one), I can’t experiment. So I guess this year I’ll be using the method I used last year which was the Apiguard variety. This year I’ll keep a close eye on the mite drop (and look for any ants) not forgetting the Vaseline this time. Maybe I’ll use this new Varroa treatment next year when and if I have more colonies.


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,

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.


Oxalic acid treatment

oxalic acid
Oxalic acid winter treatment

I treated the colony in the city against Varroa the Saturday before last by what here is called the dripping method. In this way you can start the season with a colony relatively free of Varroa. This treatment is meant to be performed in the middle of winter December till January. Even though here the winter has hardly shown its face, with temperatures as high as 10°C (50°F). The day I performed the procedure it was around -1°C  (30°F) but felt like -5°C (23°F).

The bees were relatively calm, a few flew up, no more than about 15, one landed on my sock on the edge with my shoe and stung me when I started walking because it got stuck between my ankle and my shoe. The procedure took no time at all. I filled a 60 ml syringe with the oxalic acid mixture (9 grams oxalic acid, 150 grams  sugar, and 150 ml water) and dripped about 5 ml per “lane” (room between the frames) that was occupied by the bees.

This method needs to be done in the winter time, which feels all wrong because at the beekeeping course I followed I was taught that you do not bother your colony when the temperature drops bellow 14°C (57°F). You perform this method in winter because in this season there should be no brood, any mites present will be on the bees. According to the organization that does research in the Netherlands on Varroa treatments (and on bees in general) there are no detrimental consequences for the colony by opening the hive in winter. I guess I’ll trust their judgment/research. What I think happens is that when the bees clean each other of the sticky sugary liquid they also ingest the oxalic acid. The oxalic acid enters their hemolymph on which the Varroa feed and this will then kill the mites.

After the oxalic acid treatment I placed a styrofoam sheet on top of the top cover (supposedly against the cold somehow) and replaced the lid. I can now only hope that the colony will be able to survive the rest of the winter. The colony was no longer as large as I would have liked. In a few months I will reduce the size of the hive and place the honey super back on top of the hive (I trust that they will start to use it in stead of using the second brood box as honey super).

I found a video of the kind of treatment I performed, it’s a video of Dutch origin so don’t expect English commentary.


Deformed wing virus

Deformed Wing virus
Deformed Wing virus

Siting in front of my hive one day, the hive at my parents house, I saw a bee stumble out of the hive and drop onto the ground. On the ground the bee continued to crawl on. I was surprised and concerned. I gathered up the bee to get a better look at it. There was clearly something wrong with it’s wings. It didn’t try to fly and fell to the ground when falling off of my hand. I had recently read about deformed wing virus (DWV) and that it could be an indication of a Varroa destructor infection as an opportunistic pathogen. After reading some more I was quit sure this was DWV. The wings were clearly deformed, not as bad as you can find on the interwebs, but you’ll see if you click on the image on the left it’s bad enough.

It was right before the time I needed to treat the colony against varroa with formic acid so I was hoping that would take care of the problem. Other beekeepers I knew didn’t seem all that concerned so I reasoned that it wasn’t extraordinary. Still after my previous troubles, I wasn’t all that certain. Apparently the formic acid treatment was enough, I saw no more bees with DWV, the bees don’t last long after crawling out of the comb with this affliction so I guess no more bees with clear DWV were “born”.

Without Varroa the bees can handle DWV fine but Varroa makes them more susceptible to any disease. Varroa mites will often be carriers of DWV and in that way infect the bees. According to the Wikipedia article Varroa will serve as a kind of incubator for DWV and only colonies with a serious Varroa infestation suffer from it. I can only hope that the bees are relatively free of Varroa now and will make sure to treat them against Varroa next year so they stay or become healthy.


Formic acid treatment

mierenzuurAugust is the time to treat the bees against Varroa infection. This mite, aptly named Varroa destructor, is one of the most serious enemies of the honey bee. It is a pest imported from the far east and has been spreading over Europe and the rest of the world for the last 40 years or so. Only Australia is free of this pest and I’m sure they hope to keep it that way.

Without treatment your colony will surely die. Most likely not of the Varroa mites them selfs but of secondary/opportunistic  infections like deformed wing virus (DWV). In the Netherlands organizations, like bijen@WUR, researches bee health and are on the lookout for causes of bee disease and research and test treatment plans. So far there is no sure way to be rid of the Varroa, all we have so far are means to keep the Varroa at bay.

One of the treatments against Varroa is drenching your bees in formic acid vapor for about 14 days. The time to do this is after you have harvested the last of the honey so at the end of July or at the beginning of August. There are other treatments but this is article is about the treatment I performed.

You can perform this treatment in a number of ways, the one I employed, which I think is the easiest and cheapest one, is by placing a clean household cloth on top of a queen excluder on the top brood box, placing an empty honey super on top and soaking the cloth in a certain amount (30 ml per brood box) of formic acid (60%). You will leave this cloth with acid in the hive for 4-5 days and repeat the procedure twice to get a treatment totaling about 14 days, to get all the mites also in closed brood.

Liebig dispencer

Perhaps an easier way but one requiring buying some gear entails buying a Liebig dispenser shown in the image below. It requires a little less effort and uses 85% formic acid in stead of 60%, which is the concentration that is readily available and so doesn’t require diluting. The dispenser is not expensive, so I guess that will be the method I will be employing in the future. I am myself the best example why not having to dilute you formic acid is an advantage. Having worked in chemical/biological labs for in total well over a year, and having instructed young students in lab practices, I didn’t think to much of working with 85% formic acid. As I had bought 85% formic acid and needed 60% it needed to be diluted, no big deal I thought until the bottle of formic acid slipped out of my wet gloves fell and bumped on the bottom of the bath where I was doing the dilution and sprayed 85% formic acid in my face. I got it on my cheeks and on my throat and a droplet in my eye. After dosing my face under the tap for about a minute, while all the formic acid went down the drain, I opened the bathroom door which my wife was about to break down having heard the commotion. After a visit to the doctor I had to have a large band aid covering my eye for a day and had to drop antibiotic liquid in my eye for three days. The burn marks in my face and throat were gone in a little over a week. It didn’t really hurt but the acid did burn in my eye. There is no lasting damage but I was obviously mortified that I could have been so clumsy and careless.

I finally bought a new bottle and performed the dilution at a lab of a biologist friend, no drama what soever…and the procedure with the hives went down without a hitch. I could have done it easily in a sink, the bath was not the best choice. You just have to be careful, wear eye and hand protection and be organized. And if all else fails find a place that sells it at the right concentration for your method or use a method that uses the 85% concentration.

So the take home message is; don’t spill formic acid in your eye, it hurts and is a major bother.


Why keeping the bees is important

CCD, so many reasons

Bees are an essential part of our ecology, not only are they responsible for the pollination of many of our food crops, some sources say that about a third of the human food crops require honey bee pollination. Although there obviously are more pollinating insects none are as productive or fastidious as the honey bee. But honey bees not only pollinate they also produce honey, propolis, wax and royal jelly.

Throughout the world we see a decline in honey bee populations as well as in the population of wild bees. Beekeepers will visit their hives one day and find some simply empty, a phenomenon termed colony collapse disorder (CCD). Or beekeepers will come to their hives after winter and find up to half the colonies died over the winter, although that can also be attributed to bad management.

The cause of honey bee population decline is a topic for hefty debate and scientific study. There are a number of possible culprits for the global decline of honey bees, like pesticides (specially the neonicotinoid variant); mite infections (mainly the Varroa destructor and to a lesser extent Acarapis); habitat destruction (see below); pathogens. Especially in the US the apicultural practices are also a cause with beekeepers driving their bees around in trucks carrying more than a few hundred hives. It is most likely a combination of these factors as none of these factors on its own seems serious enough to cause such devastation.

The green desert, that is what us beekeepers aptly name most farmland, especially farm land used for animal (mainly cow) farming. There is nothing for the bees or other insects in these meadows. Cattle farmers want to grow grass and only grass. Dandelions mixed in with your grass? Heresy! (bees like dandelions) Habitat destruction seems one cause that can be easily mended by adjusting the agricultural practices. Have borders to agricultural plots with wild flowers which would break up the green desert. This is also the main reason why these days bees tend to prosper in urban areas. Bees can find the things in gardens and public parks they can’t find in rural areas, food.

Bee Hotel
Okay this is slightly over the top

The question is can “we the people” do something about this? Yes! I guess you could buy a flowering plant seed mix specially designed for bees. Then go looking for some unused plots of land in you neighborhood and sow some of the seeds there. Perhaps a more constructive and longer lasting way would be to petition you local counsel to use any unused land specifically for growing wild flowers useful for bees. I’m sure your local beekeepers as well as any wild (solitary) bees and bumble bees will be very thankful. An other thing you could do, this time not specifically for honey bees, is buy or make a bee hotel. This way you would be supporting the local solitary bees even more. There are over 20000 species of bee most of them solitary, the honey bee (Apis mellifera) is just one species of bee.


(List of crop plants pollinated by bees (wiki)Colony collapse disorder(wiki))