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Summer update.

This summer has been as busy as it has been dry. July 1st was a major day for me as I sold my company and officially became “semi-retired”. It did not take long for me to wonder how I ever found time to work with a lot of the newly found time going into our bees.

New Yard, New Friends – Hillside Springs Farm

Spring hill

Rick’s hive on left, package hive on right at Hillside Springs Farm. Strapped as I am only there every other week.

Last December/January I ordered a package, 3 nucs and gratefully accepted an offer from Rick of a hive to restart my apiary. I really wanted 3 colonies but ordered more as winter can play havoc with the availability of nucs come spring. Instead, we had the mildest winter in years and all 5 colonies needed homes by the end of May. In previous years, our home apiary of 4-6 hives struggled to make enough honey to overwinter without a lot of fall feeding (and NO honey harvest). My plan was to have 3 colonies here so I tried to find an out yard for the remaining 2 colonies. Luckily, Gayla learned about Hillside Springs Farm, a local CSA owned by Frank Hunter and Kim Peavey since 2002. From their website;

“Hillside Springs Farm is a small horse-powered CSA farm in Westmoreland, New Hampshire, growing 3 acres and over 100 varieties of vegetables, herbs, and flowers, using only sustainable, organic, and biodynamic farming methods.  Hillside Springs Farm is unique in the area for its extended 24-week harvest season, all-inclusive pricing, freshly pressed apple cider, and draft horse work.”

Frank and Kim are incredibly dedicated, the farm is bountiful, the veggies look outstanding and what a honeybee paradise! Thankfully, they allowed me to place the established package hive and Rick’s hive with them (both on drawn small cell comb). I am happy to say we just harvested our apiary’s first honey in 3 years from this yard! Rick’s hive gave us the honey and is now 6 mediums high with a booming population. That is after I harvested 15 frames of honey from the hive and placed a couple frames of eggs , a frame of nectar and another of pollen into a nuc that I took back home and and let them raise a queen that it now laying a beautiful pattern. Thanks, Rick! This is my best hive.

Before moving the package hive to the farm, I fed it 4 gallons of 1;1 syrup with Honey-B-Healthy and Vitamin-B-Healthy. It built up well and was a deep and 4 mediums when the queen died (have I mentioned how much I hate package bees?). There were about 20 emergency cells in the hive and I decided to let them raise their own queen. That saved me $30 and more importantly, broke the brood cycle from late June to late July, reducing the mite load (no queen=no brood=no place for mites to breed). After returning from the EAS meeting, I purchased 3 queens from Troy Hall and planned on making nucs from the package hive. Unfortunately, the hive lost a lot of strength while raising a new queen and I was only able to take 10 frames from the hive ( 1 of eggs, 1 larvae, 1 pollen 2 nectar rest empty but drawn comb) to make a 2 story nuc.  I then took yet  another 5 frames from Rick’s hive to start a 2nd nuc and brought both home so the bees would not return to the original hives. I added a 2nd story to Rick’s nuc and after 1 day of the nucs being queenless, introduced a Hall queen (in cages) to each hive. Three days later, the queens were released and are now building up for winter in our home apiary.

The Apiary at Honey Meadow Farm

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Panorama of orchard, gardens and apiary

The 2 nucs I purchased from Mike Palmer and the Russian nuc from Dan Conlon were hived at our home apiary. One of the Palmer nucs was hived on small cell and one on large cell. The large cell hive is out performing the small cell but I wonder if it is because it is in the shade during the hottest part of the day while the small cell hive is in the orchard and in direct afternoon sun. So much for my “big” study  of n=2 hives😉. The Russian hive is also large cell and resides in the orchard. Speaking of the Russians…

The Russians – A great idea but…

hive placement

Palmer SC-1 on left, Russians near center in orchard and Palmer LC-1 and nucs on right

As expected, they were slow to build up once hived in a 10 frame deep (btw, all of my hives are 10 frame). I fed them immediately and they took about 2-3 gal of 1;1 before deciding not to bother. At this point there are 3 mediums on top of the deep with about 2 of supers filled of capped honey and the rest nectar. The queen has only laid in the deep. She is unmarked and I have not seen her since the day I put her in the hive. Various stages of brood, eggs and pollen are always present and there is a good population of bees given the size of the hive.

Now the but…These are the nastiest bees I have ever had! One had best be wearing protection if opening the hive. With smoke or without, these bees do NOT like me in their space! I normally wear a veil, t-shirt and long pants when doing my inspections. This hive has me with a bee jacket, veil and double nitrile gloves! I do look at this as my fault. Everyone else I know with Russians tells me how gentle they are. I believe I have a nasty queen and I should have replaced her 6 weeks ago but was too busy to make it down to Warm Colors. My bad as Dan is now out of Russian queens, so she is the matriarch until next spring. I have seen zero swarming behavior within the hive and there is always space for her to lay within the deep so she seems to be managing the hive well. Just leave her alone, thank you! Next chance I get to replace her, she’s gone.

The Palmer Nucs

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LC-1 and 3 of our 4 nucs

Mike’s bees are from Carniolan stock and his nucs are truly overwintered. They build up quickly and you have to be sure to stay on top of them so they do not swarm in early summer. I kept both of them here as I hived one on large cell (LC-1) and one on small cell (SC-1) and I wanted to see if there was a difference. Since the nucs came as large cell deeps, I had to use the large cell frames they came on in SC-1 hive but the rest of the foundation and comb is small cell. Oddly, even with feeding, it took them forever to draw out new foundation in either hive. So long, that I finally added a 2nd deep with drawn large cell comb to LC-1 because they were not drawing out any of the foundation in the mediums and I was afraid they would swarm. After taking about 3-4 gal of 1;1, both finally started to draw out their foundation and are doing well.

In comparison, LC-1 is doing better than SC-1. LC-1 is now 2 deeps and 3 mediums tall. I have harvested 9 frames of honey and I removed 2 frames of eggs, one of nectar and one of pollen to make a nuc for the 3rd Hall queen. I also removed 7 additional frames of “honey” and placed them in the bee freezer so I have reserve frames if one of the colonies gets light next winter. These were the early syrup frames and I wanted them out of the hive anyway. This hive gets early morning sun and is protected from the hot afternoon sun which may be why it is doing so well.

In comparison, SC-1 is in the orchard, is in shade during the early morning and in direct sun from about 10AM  until after 7PM. It has been hot and dry this summer so I wonder if that is having an effect. It is doing well and currently is 6 mediums tall. The queen is mainly laying in the bottom 3 with a bit of brood in 4. Most of supers 4-6 are now capped honey and nectar.

Both hives can occasionally be a bit fiesty but are usually gentle and easy to work. At this point, unless we have a good fall flow, I will not harvest any additional honey and will move what they have made around to balance out the hives and nucs for winter. We now have harvested about 60 pounds which is enough for us, some gifts and a few for sale.

Monitoring Mite Load

So you may have noticed there is very little about hive monitoring, mite load and treatments. Trust me, I am! In fact, I have moved to Mite Away Quick Strips (MAQS), an organically approved formic acid treatment. I will discuss this next week when the treatment is completed.

It is now mid-August and the mite load in your colonies is probably rapidly growing as your bee population starts to decrease a bit as the hives start raising your winter bees. If you have not been monitoring your mite load, DO IT NOW! Waiting until September or later in New England is too late. It’s not just the mites that matter but the fact they are a vector to passing other diseases that will infect your bees now as they get ready for winter. Knocking down your load to 1% or less now will make for much healthier bees in winter. Use a sugar or alcohol roll to get an accurate idea of your mite load. Screen bottom boards with sticky boards are not totally accurate and should be used mainly to determine overall trends.

Well, it’s finally pouring here right now. Naturally, my extractor is sitting unprotected outside the barn since the bees were enjoying cleaning up the residual honey after I harvested some frames yesterday. I guess I should have looked at that fancy weather station in the orchard last night…

I hope your bees are buzzin’ and you are enjoying fresh honey!

 

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One of Mike’s booming overwintered nucs!

Tuesday, May 10th at 4:30AM found me heading up 91N to Mike Palmer’s apiary to pick up 4 Carniolan nucs–2 for Andy and 2 for me. Saturday, May 14th at 2:00PM found me heading down 91S to Dan Conlon’s to pick up 2 Russian nucs, again 1 for Andy and 1 for me. That now brings my apiary to 4 colonies. We sort of look like the United Nations of apiaries with 1 Italian (package), 2 Carniolan and 1 Russian hives. Don’t tell “The Donald” or he may deport them or build a wall around my 10 acres. Actually, that may not be all that bad if it looks nice! One more hive is coming from my friend, Rick. He claims they are American bees and will not be deported.

That will be it for the season unless I start a couple of nucs in late June. That all depends on how the hives build up. The real problem is we live in the woods and I will soon have 5 colonies in an area that probably can only sustain 3. My original plan was to offer 2 hives to an organic farmer friend but another local beek beat me to it. Hopefully, I can place the Italians and the “Americans” in a garden down by the Connecticut River which should prove to be a prime spot and keep the rest here. If not, I still have the organic pasture in Sullivan, NH but bees have not done well there in the past.

The Past

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Hiving a 3lb package of bees

Those who have read this blog for the past 9 seasons know I have tried rather unsuccessfully to raise bees with as little intervention as possible. Early seasons were superb but the last few have been what I consider disastrous to my bees as they have not survived. Most surprising to me was the 2014 season where I entered the 2014-15 winter with  a very low mite count after treating with OAV, did a great job wrapping the hives and added ventilation with moisture boards based on a Master Beekeeper’s online plan only to watch my hives succumb to Nosema (I still think it had to do with adding “winter” patties from a major bee supplier causing the bees to need to relieve themselves but unable to due to bitter cold). At any rate, this has all made me wonder about just how possible it is to raise bees in my locale with minimal intervention.

To save newer readers from going back into the archives, please allow me to review what I have done in the past. First, I have been exclusively small cell in order to help reduce the mite population in medium hive bodies. I do believe small cell does help regardless of every published study saying it does not. None-the-less, in recent years I still had the logarithmic build up of mites in the fall that would overwhelm several of my colonies while others survived. I also did splits to break the brood cycle, did not treat for Nosema and fed as little  syrup as possible due to the change in pH it causes in the bee gut. All of this was in the “best practices” of the no treat camp and I felt I could develop bees that were genetically less susceptible to the diseases others treated for by breeding my survivors. The reality is, first you have to have survivors since, as you may have noticed, dead bees don’t reproduce. Still, I had success following this plan several years ago. It simply has not worked for my bees the last 3 or 4 years and it is time for me to reconsider what I am doing or stop.

The Future:

Step One – Feeding

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Russian hive with top feeder

Another glaring sign is neither my Westmoreland or Sullivan bees have produced a honey crop in about 4 years. In fact, they have barely made enough winter stores for themselves. This makes me wonder if I am not helping them build up fast enough in the Spring to take advantage of the early flow and splitting them too often for the Fall flow. This year, I immediately put 1:1 syrup on all of the colonies, this time using Honey-B-Healthy as a feeding stimulant and adding some additional amino acids via Amino-B-Booster. Since the nucs all are on deep frames, I decided to add a deep hive body to each colony. This means the bees need to draw out some fresh foundation as I have always used mediums to keep things simple. Feeding 1:1 helps provide the resources the bees need to do so and hopefully the additional amino acids will help nutritionally. I plan on feeding each of the colonies until they quit taking it.

Step Two – Small vs Large Cell

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Bees on small cell comb with 1 day old eggs

Without delving into the argument about which size is best (look at previous posts), the primary reason I used small cell was for mite reduction. For me, I took a big step in Fall, 2014 when I first used OAV to knock down the mite load in late summer and then again heading into Winter. That makes me wonder if there is still a need for me to use small cell since I am now using OAV for the same reason. Are larger bees better at overwintering or creating honey stores compared to my smaller bees? While I have my thoughts, I really do not know, so I hived one of the Carniolan nucs mixing fresh small cell foundation with the existing large cell frames the bees came on and placing a medium of  drawn out small cell frames on top.  The other Carniolan nuc was hived on all large cell frames in the deep with a medium of fresh large cell foundation above. Both will remain in the Westmoreland apiary and I’ll watch to see if there is any difference. Yes, I know this is too small of a sample size to make any definitive statement but it’s what I’ve got and I’m interested in seeing if they perform differently. Interestingly, the large cell hive has, as of May 20th,  refused to draw out any of the fresh foundation above the deep and is cramming everything into the bottom deep. If this continues, I will take the remaining large cell deep frames I have accumulated and create a 2nd deep hive body, put it above the lower deep and checkerboard the frames to prevent swarming. I’ll still leave the fresh foundation medium as the top super.

Note: All of the previously drawn out frames of comb, regardless of size, have spent a minimum of 2 weeks in my bee freezer before being used in a new hive. This is to help kill anything that may have been living on the frames in the previous hive. Not 100% fool proof but it certainly helps.

Step 3 – Treating for Varroa

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Organic blueberry blossoms

First and foremost, Gayla and I are very committed to managing our property organically. While not certified, I think it has been about 14 years since we used any inorganic pesticides or petroleum-based fertilizers anywhere on our Westmoreland homestead and Sullivan is about to be certified organic. Our gardens have been organic for the 25 years we have lived here. The blueberry, strawberry and raspberry beds plus the orchard we have established are now entering their 3rd season and all follow suit. This blog however, is about holistic beekeeping,not organic beekeeping and though I am not about to completely change my ways, I am acknowledging the fact that, in the past, I have not been considering the whole organism and now wonder about the value of some of the softer treatments. This is why I like OAV vaporization. The treatment has proven successful in Europe for decades. Oxalic acid exists in honey and in many of the foods we eat. It has been shown to have no affect on the queen, bees or larvae while being devastating to Varroa. The treatment is over within minutes and does not require me to leave strips in a hive for days. I have noticed several dead bees post treatment but I am wondering if they were actually on the material as it vaporized. Do I wish I did not have to use it? ABSOLUTELY! I also wish to win the lottery…

The Russian hive (placed in a large cell deep with drawn comb and a medium with fresh large cell foundation on top) should not require treatment. The queen is certified pure Russian, not a hybrid. They are resistant to Varroa, tracheal mites and American Foul Brood. Note, resistant not immune! I will certainly follow them using drop boards tho’ Dan says he has not had to treat for several years. I hope I can say the same.

Step 4 – Treating for Nosema

I am not a fan of prophylactic use of antibiotics. I do not take them this way and I do not feel right giving them to my bees. I have put a lot of thought into how to reduce my chances of N. apis or N. cerenae with nutrition playing a major role. After loosing so many colonies to Nosema during the 2014-15 winter, I’m leaning towards treating this Fall, though looking for something besides Fumigilan-B. I plan on attending the EAS annual meeting in July and hope to find an answer there. Please send comments if you have any ideas or let me know what you do. It’s very sad to open what was a booming hive going into winter and finding dead bees, frames of honey and a brown mess over everything.

Step 5- The Orchard and Pollinator Habitats

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Blueberry plants and some of the garden

 

My thought is the best way to defeat Nosema is by providing a variety of good forage throughout the season. That should also help with finally getting some honey! This is what first made me decide to plant the orchard and all of the various fruits. Now starting their 3rd season are 7 apple trees, 3 peach, 2 plum a pear and a pie cherry. The floor of the orchard is primarily dutch clover which also permeates our lawn. We also have 50+ cultivated blueberry plants, countless wild blueberries, 100 linear feet of raspberries and a strawberry bed. Our 78’x50′ veggie garden goes in this week. Dandelions abound…

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The orchard floor is a variety of pollinator plants–including white dutch clover–hopefully providing good forage throughout the season.

Providing pollen and nectar in the Spring is great but bees eat throughout the season so we are now planting varieties that will continue supporting all of the pollinators. So far we have added borage, an area of sweet clover, another of buckwheat, bee balm, numerous butterfly bushes, echinacea, sweet cicely, buttonbush, American cranberry (Bailey’s viburnam), a variety of wildflower seed, winter flame dogwood plus our normal perennials of lavender and numerous annuals.

 

Hopefully, this commitment will show the results that I expect and the bees in my care deserve.

OOPS! Gayla just handed me warm chocolate chip cookies! This ol’ boy does have his priorities. C’ya!

I hope your bees are buzzin’!

 

 

 

Ahhhh…bees!

bees and barn

Waiting to check in …

Last Saturday morning found my friend Andy and I each picking up a new package of Italian bees from Dan Conlon at Warm Colors Apiary. As I have stated in earlier posts, I really hate buying packages but I know I can trust Dan. My problem with packages is we are bringing in bees that have already been across the US and back doing almonds, the bees have no relationship to the queen and it’s a great way to bring critters that bother southern bees and drop them right into your apiary. I greatly prefer northern-raised nucs from trustworthy, local beekeepers. The nucs have either overwintered with the queen  or, as in the case of “spring nucs”, a northern-raised queen was added to a nuc in late April or early May and has proven herself by laying several frames of healthy brood before the colony is sold. In either instance, the queens are already accepted and the colony has proven itself to be viable prior to arriving in your apiary.

 

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Apiary facing organic orchard, veggie garden and 50+ blueberries eventually needing pollination

So… if I do not like packages, why did I buy one? Pollination. I need bees now as we already have blueberries starting to blossom, as is one of our plum trees. The apples and peaches will be next and the 4 nucs that I have coming will not be ready for at least another 2-3 weeks. Since I order my bees in December and January–before we know if it will be a good or bad winter for bees–betting on nucs is a bit of a gamble. While there certainly are no guarantees in beekeeping, one can readily anticipate a package ordered late fall or early winter will actually arrive come spring. When that package is coming via Dan, it’s as solid as it can possibly be.

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So I said good-bye to Andy and Dan and headed home to hive the Italian ladies into a hive consisting of a hive stand, a screen bottom board, a slat board to raise the bottom brood chamber away from the bottom entrance (still cold here at night with a couple of nights dropping into the 20’s) two 10-frame mediums of drawn small cell, a hive top feeder and an outer cover. Yes, I installed the package directly onto drawn small cell comb and did not worry about regressing the bees from large cell to small. I have never done so and have not had a problem.

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Didn’t your mother tell you never shake 3 lbs of bees into a box?

As with every package I have ever installed, the bees were incredibly gentle and I never lit the smoker. You may wish to have yours lit and available but I didn’t take the time. You can also have a spray bottle of syrup handy if you so desire. Again, nah…I removed one frame from the lower medium to create space to hang the queen cage and removed all of the frames from the upper, leaving the upper hive body in place. After shaking the bees into the hive,

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Make sure cage screen faces open area so bees can feed the queen until she is free

I hung the queen cage in the space created in the middle of the lower hive body when I removed the one frame and replaced all 10 frames in the upper medium. After adding a gallon of 1:1 syrup (1 pint water to 1 pound of sugar), I closed them up, put a wooden entrance reducer on the bottom entrance (opened to about 3 “) turned on the bear fence and walked away. Naturally, you DO have a baited bear fence, right? Shortly later the girls were doing orientation flights in front of their new abode.

Day 4:

Due to weather, on day 4 I finally went out to check  on the queen and found her in the upper medium laying eggs. The bees had stored about 1/2 of the syrup and were bringing in pollen to feed the larvae.

Day 7:

Yesterday, the bees had finally stored all of the original gallon of syrup. Cold nights meant cold syrup that had to warm up during the 50-60º days and delayed them a bit.

I decided I want all or at least most of my hives to have a deep bottom brood chamber. I’m thinking it may help in winter so I placed a deep of fresh small cell foundation on top of the 2 mediums and added a gallon of syrup with some Honey-B-Healthy to help stimulate feeding. Packages can build comb quickly so I am hoping they draw out the deep foundation and I can put the deep on the bottom of the stack prior to the nectar flow.

Notes:

I cannot tell you how wonderful it is for us to have bees again! We really missed them and love hearing them fly by when working in the yard, see them hitting the dandelions and just sitting out by the hive watching the entrance. I plan on monitoring the feeder but otherwise leaving them along for the next 10-14 days and let them build up. We should be getting an email about that time saying the nucs are ready and then the apiary will REALLY be buzzing!

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Package is in 2nd green hive. Bear fence is solar powered and baited with bacon.

BTW, in the pictures you will see I have 3 additional hives already in place. I did this so the package bees are immediately  familiar with the eventual apiary configuration which will hopefully reduce drifting later on. Also, at night, I reduce the entrance down to about 3/4″ and open it to about 3″ during the day to prevent too much congestion at the entrance.

 

I hope your colonies are quickly building up and that spring has finally arrived to stay! If you were lucky enough to have overwintered any nucs, get them hived  and be ready to add supers for their growth spurt!

The next post will be about the apiary plan for 2017.

Keep your bees buzzin’!

 

 

 

Spring, 2016

Hello, again. I apologize for the year “sabbatical”. It was not planned but what resulted when I slipped on the last piece of ice on our driveway a year ago yesterday. The result was surgery in July which ended my beekeeping season and typing for quite a while. It also resulted in loosing my last 2 hives to Bald Faced Hornets and leaving me without bees for the first time in 8 years. Thanks to a GREAT orthopedic surgeon at Mass General, I am back and ready to go!

Through the graces of my friendships with Mike Palmer, Dan Conlon, and best beekeeping buddies, Rick, Keith and Jen, this spring I will again have bees! I absolutely cannot tell you how I have missed them and will start with 6 colonies. I am changing some of the practices I have followed for the past 8 seasons and will again be writing about what I am doing and the results I experience. You are welcome to join me if you wish and I again apologize for the silence.

More to come soon!

I hope your bees came buzzin’ through winter ready for an early spring!

 

Oxalic Acid Vaporization

If you have not read the previous post, please do so. This is part 2…

Before I continue writing, Oxalic Acid Vaporization (OAV) is not an approved miticide technique in the US and is considered off label usage. It has been used for years in Europe and in many countries is considered the primary treatment for Varroa destructor. There are numerous beekeepers in the US using this technique and the equipment for performing OAV is readily available from a number of sources. But it is not yet approved! I am not in any way suggesting you use this technique in your apiary. I am describing how I use this in my apiary. Additionally, OA is hazardous to your eyes and lungs. Proper protection is required when using the vaporization method.

What is it?
Oxalic Acid (OA) is an organic acid. Do not get confused by the word “organic”, all it means is there is carbon in the formula. This is not a certified organic treatment, though it is considered a “soft” treatment. Everything I have read–and so far experienced–claims it does not affect queens, brood, or bees. It is 70x more toxic to mites than bees and can be used as long as the temperature is over 40ºF. As oxalic acid is naturally found in honey, you can treat with the supers on though if I was selling honey this year, I would remove the supers. Why add anything to the hive with the supers in place? BTW, OA is naturally found in spinach, Swiss chard, beets (root part), beet greens (leaf part), collards, okra, parsley, leeks, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, currants, almonds, tofu, soy products etc…

The Varrox® unit has battery cable clips at the end of a 6 foot cable.

The Varrox® unit has battery cable clips at the end of a 6 foot cable.

Choosing OAV
Please read Randy Oliver’s 2-part article about OA dribble and vaporization on his website, Scientific Beekeeping. Randy goes into such excellent detail it would be foolish for me to repeat it here and I would be plagiarizing his work if I did. Let me simply say after reading his articles, checking the scientific references and (gasp!) reading numerous conversations on Beesource forums, I decided the claimed results warranted trying the vaporization technique.

The Components

I purchased the Varrox® 12-volt oxalic vaporizer Randy recommended on his website. The cost was $165, including shipping. I also purchased a tractor battery at Home Depot for $49, a full face shield respirator at Amazon for $110 and what I believe to be the cartridges for the respirator for another $34. Add the $6 I spent on OA (purchased on EBay) and the total comes to $364. Pricey? Compared to the toll on queens and brood most of the other treatments cause, I do not believe so. Plus, how much is a viable hive worth today? All of the components are a 1 time purchase except for the respirator cartridges and the OA and will last for many years.

During OAV treatment

In progress. Battery, iPad with stopwatch, vaporizer in hive. Note : 3 pieces of foam keeps bottom entrance sealed. Middle piece is removed then replaced to insert/remove Varrox® unit

Directions

The key is to seal the hive so when the OA is heated, the vapors remain in the hive. All I did was close the upper entrance by pulling the outer cover tight across the front, place sticky boards under the screen bottom boards and stuff pieces of foam in the bottom entrance. The Varrox unit comes with spoons for measuring out 1 gram of OA. I use 1gr OA per brood chamber (2gr for my larger hives # 1 and 2 and 1gr for hives #3 and 4 ) and pouring it into the cup of the Varrox unit, I place the cup with OA  in the front of the hive through the bottom entrance, seal the entrance with foam, hook up the leads to the battery and wait 3 minutes. The Varrox unit vaporizes the OA which then fills the interior of the hive. A very small amount of vapor does come out of the hive. This is why I wear the face shield with respirator and use gloves. At 3 minutes I remove the leads from the battery and wait a couple of minutes for the Varrox to cool. I remove the foam around the unit (I use 3 pieces of foam so most of the bottom entrance stays sealed while I do this) pull the Varrox unit out of the hive, replace the foam and let the hive remain sealed for a total of 10 minutes after removing the leads from the battery. While I’m waiting, I dip the hot portion of the Varrox in water to immediately cool it and start the same procedure with the next hive. When the 13 minutes is up, I remove the foam, re-opern the top entance and walk away. The first time I did this treatment I only did one hive at a time before moving on. During the 2nd treatment, I used 2 timers so I could continue on while the last hive finished it’s treatment. As I recall, to do the 4 hives took me approximately 45 minutes.

Preliminary Results

There are over 1,000 dead mites on this board. I know. I counted them!

There are over 1,000 dead mites on this board. I know. I counted them!

Hive 1:
Pre-treat inspection: 24 hour mite drop of 10 – 12 on sticky board

1st treatment: 6 Days post-treat with OAV: 1,100+ dead mites on sticky board
2nd treatment: 6 days post-treat with OAV: 1,253 dead mites on sticky board

Hive inspection 6 days after 2nd treatment: Saw the queen who is still laying. Eggs, larvae and brood look good, bees are plentiful, look and act healthy with a few dead bees in hive.

Hive 2:
Pre-treat: 24 hour mite drop of 10 – 12 on stickyboard                    Treated with powdered sugar dusting 2x 1 week apart: mite drop count remaining at 10 – 12/24 hr

6 Days post-treat with OAV: 500+ dead mites on sticky board
2nd treatment: 6 days post-treat with OAV: 728 dead mites on sticky board

Hive inspection 6 days after 2nd treatment: Queen is still laying but was not seen. Eggs, larvae and brood look good, bees are plentiful and look/act healthy, no dead bees in hive.

Hives 3 & 4
Hives were queenless long enough to break brood cycle in August, re-queened late August. Thinking that would nip the mite population I did not do 24 hr mite drop test prior to OAV (my bad…)

Hive 3:
1st treatment: 6 Days post-treat with OAV: about 350 dead mites on sticky board.
2nd treatment: 6 days post-treat with OAV: 296 dead mites on sticky board

Hive inspection 6 days after 2nd treatment: Queen found and is not laying, brood has almost completely hatched, bees plentiful and look/act healthy. I believe she has stopped for winter.

Hive 4:
1st treatment: 6 days post-treat with OAV: About 250 dead mites.
2nd treatment: 6 days post-treat with OAV: 255 dead mites

Queen found and is not laying. Brood almost completely hatched. Bees look/act healthy. Again, I believe she has stopped for winter.

Thoughts

So after 2 treatments I have counted over 4,500 dead mites on sticky boards. I will treat hive 1 and 2 tomorrow but will not treat hive 3 and 4 until I do a final treatment in November when all the hives should be broodless. The reported efficacy of this treatment on broodless hives is approximately 95% mite kill.

Looking in the hives, I would never know these bees were treated. Tho’ they were a bit perturbed when I opened them for inspection, it was cold (55ºF) and at times a bit windy. The eggs, larvae and brood looked normal as did the queen and the rest of the bees. Overall, I’m quite pleased with my choice to use OAV and look forward to seeing how they overwinter.

As to next year, I will absolutely do everything possible to not treat these bees in the fall. I will continue to do my splits, queen capture, mite counts etc. I look at OAV as a backup in case mite counts exponentially rise in late fall. Otherwise, I intend to continue my normal treatment free standard of care. I believe by using OAV this year, I have remained true to my goal of holistic beekeeping. I looked at the entire hive, saw a major mite explosion and treated the hive in the least invasive method possible. Time will tell how successful I am.

I hope your bees are buzzing and that the fall flow has brought you full hives. Go pick some apples and enjoy the rest of autumn!

Treatment Free No More…

As autumn approaches, it becomes even more important to do your mite checks. This is what I did NOT do last year and I vowed that will not happen this year. Bees start to decrease in numbers but the mites keep right on going and if left unchecked, will overrun the hive (see my results from last winter). I’ve been spot checking hives all season long, always with very good results. Sugar rolls came back with zero mites. Sticky boards showed zero to 1 mite per 24 hours. I was feeling pretty positive! Then came late August and early September…

How the Summer Went

When I last  wrote, the bees were building nicely.  At one point I was up to 5 hives and 1 nuc after starting with the equivalent of 3 nucs and 1 hive.  I raised 2 daughters from my Sullivan queen, Rick Church made a nuc for me using a Carniolan queen from Dan Conlan and I had a Palmer survivor and a survivor grand daughter of a Jennifer Berry queen. Mite counts were excellent and all of the queens were laying tho’ the Berry and Palmer survivors were slow building. The Conlan queen and the Sullivan queens (originally from Mike Palmer stock) were going gangbusters! With the bees doing well it was time to concentrate on the orchard and berry gardens. A check in early August showed the bees doing fine except the slow builders still hadn’t come up to speed so I combined them, keeping the Berry grand daughter.

End of Summer Surprise

End of August I did an extensive inspection of the hives and found the Sullivan Survivor queen was gone and there was not an egg or capped brood cell to be seen! Even though the hive was 5 mediums high with a ton of bees, my best queen was gone and had been for at least 16 days. Further inspections showed me I should requeen the the combined hive and that I had mite counts rapidly increasing in the 2 other hives (10 – 12 mite drop/24 hours on sticky boards).

Luckily, I was able to buy 2 queens from Charlie Andros. Whenever I requeen a “queenless” hive I always do one final check before installing the new queen. Sure enough, the top frame had a few eggs and a queen walking around! They had made a replacement queen who was out mating when I inspected the hive. Four days later, she’s back and laying. Made me glad I checked or I would have added a queen to a queen-right colony. Not good…I moved the Berry queen into a nuc just in case the new queen was not accepted and requeened her hive. I took the 2nd queen and made a nuc from some of the booming hives and took it out to Sullivan. Checking on that nuc 3 weeks later was another surprise. It looks like it has European Foul Brood. As it is an isolated hive with no other apiaries within 2 miles, I left it alone and need to get back to see what is happening.

Trying to Reduce the Mite Levels

So now I had all of the colonies queen-right but I still had to knock down the mites in the other 2 hives. It was too late to capture the queens and isolate them to break the brood cycle as they were raising bees that were going to work the fall flow and raise the winter bees. I decided to try dusting with powdered sugar. You guessed it…no effect. After 2 dustings a week apart I still had mite drops of 10-12/24 hours. Now what?

Hard to Improve Genetics When all of Your Bees are Dead

After being treatment free for the first 6 years, I have been wondering what I will do if faced with this dilemma since last February. I’ve spoken to other beeks. I’ve read numerous papers and forums. I refuse to use the hard treatments and have been looking for whatever “soft” treatment may be harmless to bees and honey yet knock out mites–in other words, the Holy Grail. While my choice is not ready to be included in a Monty Python movie, for me, the winner is Oxalic Acid Vaporizaton (OAV). As I am out of time tonight, I will continue this later this week, including preliminary results. While I am no longer able to say I am a treatment free beekeeper, the preliminary results have me happy with my choice and will hopefully leave me with bees that I can continue to manage next spring. It’s hard to improve the genetics of your apiary when all of your bees are dead and I truly believe mine would have been without this intervention.

I hope your hives a dripping with honey and filled with contented bees! In New Hampshire, your mouse guards should be on, your feeders ready to come off and your mites in control. Be back shortly…

 

 

Slowly building back

The Farm

Southeast cornerThe bees have not been the only hard workers at our home this summer.   We now have our 15 tree orchard, 49 blueberry bushes, 100 raspberries and 50 strawberries all planted, mulched, fenced and growing nicely. Gayla’s veggie garden is looking fantastic and I’ve even got a 2nd coat of stain on about half of the remaining areas of the barn. The clover in the orchard is finally coming on, too. On the downside, only 7 of the 25 asparagus plants seem viable and one of the apple trees didn’t make it. backyardAll-in-all, we’ll take it and are very happy to now enter the IPM, fertilizing and continual weeding portion of summer!

Getting to this stage has had a definite affect on my blogging and it’s way past time to catch up on how our bees are progressing. Sorry for the delay but removing the clay and rocks from every hole I dug and replacing it with compost so the plants will grow took a toll on this ol’ boy! On to the bees…garden & barn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bees

In May we had 3 colonies, the “Sullivan Survivior” and 2 colonies that made it through winter in Westmoreland. As I write this, we now have 6. The 2 Westmoreland colonies had such a  small number of bees in each hive I downsized them to nucs. One has since been placed back into 10-frame equipment, however both are building up slowly. It looks like one is a Palmer daughter queen and one is  Jennifer Berry daughter queen. The Palmer queen remains in a nuc and appears quite healthy. The Berry daughter was placed back in a full hive as I wondered if she would build up faster. Today’s inspection show that both queens are laying across 6 frames and the populations are slowly growing. Both have ample quantities of nectar and pollen.

P1010856The “Sullivan Survivor” hive was going gangbusters in May. I decided to raise a couple of her daughters so I removed the queen from the hive and placed her in a nuc, leaving the hive to raise its own queen. I also took a nice frame of eggs covered with nurse bees and put it in a queen castle with a frame of honey and another of pollen. Thirty days later both had raised a laying queen. That was 2 weeks ago. The daughter in the hive has taken the cue from her mother and is laying in 2 supers and has created a full super of brood! Removing the original queen from this hive during the flow gave the bees plenty of time to collect nectar and pollen and I added the 5th super today to keep them happy. By removing the queen, I also broke the brood cycle and greatly reduced the mite load in the hive.

P1010852The daughter from the queen castle was placed in a nuc and has laid 3 frames of brood. There is still a bit of room in the nuc for her but they have done well collecting nectar and pollen stores. I will probably add a frame of capped brood to the nuc next week to boost its population. I want to take this into winter as a nuc–not a full hive–and believe it will be ready by time late August is here.

The original queen built up the nuc I placed her in quickly so I hived her several weeks ago. Today’s inspection showed she is laying in all 3 chambers with more than a full super of brood and plus amounts of nectar and pollen.

The 6th colony started as a spring nuc (large cell, deep) created by my friend, Rick Church. Rick and I recently taught a 2-session class for advanced beekeepers. The first class was at Rick’s on June 7th and I brought the nuc home that day. I hived the nuc on June 14th. On June 21st, we looked at the hive during my class. The large cell queen was laying across 6 deep frames and had already laid 3 frames of small cell! I added the 3rd super after the class left. Today, that super was 100% filled with nectar and she has laid across 6 frames in the 2nd super. I added another super and checkerboarded the frames to keep the brood nest open. I currently have a frame from this hive in the queen castle and saw they have a capped queen cell incubating. In 3 weeks I hope to have another laying queen which I will probably use to requeen the Berry daughter hive.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with the way the apiary is going. Our bees have been incredibly gentle this year. I have not had to smoke them even once and I have often done inspections in shorts without using  a veil. This is rather foolhardy and now I force myself to wear a veil and long pants when I open a hive. All it takes is one bee having a bad day…We did mite checks using  drop boards and a sugar roll during the class and found only 1 mite. Of course, that is what we found last year, too. This year, I will continue to do the checks every other week to make sure I do not allow the mites to take over.

I hope you had a great 4th and that your apiary is filled with the contented hum  of happy bees and the sweet smell of warm wax and honey. Happy summer!

 

 

 

 

 

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