Category Archives: Bees

Nosema and Varroa Mites Killed My Bees

Diagnosis

I mailed a small plastic container of dead bees to the ARS (USDA Agricultural Research Service) Bee Research Lab in Beltsville, Maryland on January 14 and have been waiting for the results. Our new president slowed things down by telling the ARS they could not communicate directly with the public. That made me so mad that I took part in a demonstration for the first time in my life. Thankfully, some of that nonsense has now been lifted and I received the PCR results in my e mail today.

It turns out my bees were infected with Nosema, which is a fungal disease, to the tune of 61.5 million spores per bee. They also had 5.3 Varroa destructor mites per one hundred bees. Together, they had no chance.

What I don’t know, is why the Apivar Miticide strips I applied on August 22 did not kill the mites. Hive number 2 did not get treated until Sept 29, and I removed the strips in that hive after only 37 days, instead of the 50 they should have remained, but the other 5 hives all had the strips for 53 days. It should have worked.

I have no idea why they got Nosema but there does not seem to be a good treatment for that. I am not sure what I will have to do to disinfect the two dead-out hives stacked on my porch. They are full of honey, which might possibly harbor Nosema.  I was hoping to use them to start new hives with in the spring but do not want to infect the next batch. I can do a heat treatment but am wondering how to prevent melting all the honey and wax together. I have a small greenhouse that may be able to get up to the required 120 degrees F for 24 hours but I will have to monitor it closely as beeswax melts at 144 degrees.

A 50/50 bleach water solution can disinfect empty combs and wooden ware. Maybe I will have to remove the honey from the frames so I can reuse them the combs.

Guess I will be experimenting yet again.

Who needs a science based job when my whole life seems to be an experiment?

 

Please, let the other four hives be healthy. I am doing all I can.

-Wendy lee, writing at Edgewise Woods, Gardens and Critters

 

Dead Bees in January

Wintertime Bee Status

January 11, 2017
The weather has warmed up to 54 degrees F today, warm enough to open my six bee hives and do a thorough check. I still have  syrup top feeders on them, with the vents mostly sealed with duct tape, and pollen patties. I hope to not find too many dead bees in January.

Hive 1.  Heavy with honey stores, some syrup left in the top feeder and some pollen patty between boxes, the bees happily moving about in a loose cluster near the middle. I used a stick to clean a few dead bees off the bottom board and closed it back up. So far so good.

Hive 2.  This hive greets me with total silence. Dead bees are sitting along the tops of frames, others are in groups with their faces buried in cells, and then there are 3 inches of freshly killed bees laying on the bottom. I am horrified and disgusted and mad. It is so aggravating to do everything I can to keep them alive and still have them die on me.

Bees Buried in Comb
Bees Buried in Comb

Hive 3. Sounds and looks Ok with plenty of stores and the bees near the middle.

Hive 4. Plenty of honey, pollen patty, and bees but they are all in the top box, so I switch the bottom box to the top, clean off the bottom board and seal them back up. Bees like to move up, not down, so I am giving them room to do that.

Hive 5.  Dead quiet. A few frames have patches of dead bees with their faces pushed into cells but the entire bottom of the hive is covered in three inches of dead bees. I am again mad and frustrated. I feed them, buy them new queens, treat them for mites and am repaid by them dying anyway. I don’t get it.

Bottom Full of Dead Bees
Bottom Full of Dead Bees

Hive 6. Feels nice and heavy, still has some pollen patty and syrup and the bees are hanging around as a loose mass. After cleaning off the bottom board, I closed them back up, relieved that four hives have made it.

Two Hives Dead and Four Left

It is only the middle of January and I have lost two of my six hives already. Winter has not arrived in earnest yet. It makes no sense to me that these bees have died surrounded by plenty of food. I pull off my gloves, hang up my bee jacket and call my bee guru, Ed Forney.

He asks how I’m doing and I tell him, “Well, I was better before I opened my hives and found two  dead outs already. “

I tell him about the three inch deep mass of dead bees in the bottom and he says,
“Sounds like they must have gotten into something, maybe some kind of pesticide.”

“Seriously? What could they possibly get into this time of year? “

I wonder if it is possible that the farm across the road, recently replanted to wheat, might have been sprayed to kill the weeds first.

“If there were low growing weeds blooming in there when he sprayed, your bees could have been hit by that.”

Herbicides aren’t supposed to kill bees but something certainly did.

     I am hesitant to call up Neil, who farms across from me, and ask if he sprayed anything recently. I don’t want to sound accusatory or make him feel threatened, I just want to know what might have killed my bees. He told me earlier this year that he would let me know in advance if he needed to spray any insecticides and that he doesn’t usually need to. This kind of conversation is better done in person. Phone calls can be like E- mails and Facebook sometimes- you can’t read the persons face and body language- so things can come across differently than you intend them to. He is a nice guy and I know he does not want to kill my bees.  I need a good old, foot-on-the- bumper kind of talk with him, out in the tractor shed, just trading stories.

Storing Hives With No Bees

I have to deal with the two dead hives yet, so I go back out to the bee yard to retrieve the two dead-outs. I load them, so nice and heavy with honey stores, into the wagon and pull them up to the porch to clean them up. The piles of dead bees seem so fresh, almost alive. I scoop them up with my hands to put in a bucket to feed the chickens. They are so beautiful that I retrieve a magnifying glass from the kitchen to get a closer look. It is not often that honeybees are still enough to study up close. Then I see one moving. She is not dead yet. They are so freshly dead that this one is still dying. I grab my camera and take some close up photos, thinking maybe I will be able to see better with the zoom. Maybe I can learn something.

One Live Bee
One Live Bee

That is when I remember that the USDA Bee Lab in Beltsville will analyze bee and comb samples you send to them. I go back in the house to Google them and then search the house for isopropyl alcohol and a shallow plastic container to hold a handful of bees. Maybe they can figure out what killed my bees.
After getting back from the Post Office I get back into clean up mode on the two hives, scraping off and saving the excess wax and flicking dead bees off the frames. Some of the bees are wedged face first into combs and I have to pinch their tiny butts and pull them out, without squishing them. I can’t get them all and hope that’s Ok. I will be using these frames of honey to help rebuild new hives in the spring if all goes well-unless the USDA finds there is some horrible disease lurking in there.

Sealing Up Stored Hives

To keep my four boxes (2 from each dead hive) safely stored until I need them, I need to stack them up and treat them with ParaMoth. I learned the hard way just how destructive Wax Moths can be a couple of years ago when I tried to store another dead hive. Moths will get in there and dig deep trenches in the wooden walls of the hives and eat through the wax , letting all the honey drip out on the floor, while they chew up all the wax. I can’t afford to loose drawn comb, honey and expensive wooden ware to them again.
I start the storage stack by placing a lid upside down on the porch floor. This will seal off the bottom. Then I add an empty deep box, moving the frames into it one by one as I clean excess wax and dead bees off. I have three other frames of honey saved from earlier this summer that I add to the stack. I end up with a stack five boxes tall, and on the top frames I lay a paper plate with 6 Tablespoons of the ParaMoth crystals, then the top lid, weighted down with bricks. The stack will freeze which will kill any Small Hive Beetles (SHB) and the fumes from the ParaMoth will kill any moths.Hives Stacked for ParaMoth Treatment
I told Ed on the phone that I was giving my bees until August to start paying me back for all the money and hard work I have put into them and he assured me that he would help me with that. He is going to show me how to set up two of the hives for serious honey production and two for back up population and comb builders. The stored honey and brood frames should really help out with starting some new hives in the spring from splits off my over wintered bees.

That is the plan so far, I have not given up yet.
-Wendy lee, writing at Edgewisewoods, Gardens and Critters.

Feeding Fall Honeybees

Bees –October and November 2016

If my bees cannot learn to be at least a little self sufficient I am going to have to give them up. They have turned into a very expensive hobby when what I was looking for was a decent supply of honey. Sure, I want to help pollinators and any plants that need bees to reproduce, but this is ridiculous.

The Russian Queen I installed September 20th in hive #3 is laying well, with lots of capped brood.

Hive #2 was treated for mites with the Apivar strips on the 29th and I drenched the ground for beetle larvae with the Permithrin again. I removed all the bottom screens with the beetle trap trays when larvae stopped showing up in them. Cold weather is coming and I don’t want them drafty.

Feeding Fall Honeybees

All the hives have gotten way too light, as if the bees are eating more honey than they are storing, which is scary going into fall and cold weather. Lots of empty combs all of a sudden, so October 6th I started feeding the 1:1 syrup again. I had removed the top syrup feeders Aug 16th when all the hives seemed full. I Fed them syrup again on October 11th.

On October 28th, another beekeeper came by to help me look at my hives and we went through all six of them, finding two of them with very little brood, one with no brood at all and all of them still way to light in honey. I went and talked with Ed for advice and he suggested feeding them 2:1 syrup and combining two of the hives, using a double screen he lent me, then re-queening the third hive and eventually combining all three, so they have a better chance of making it through the winter.

When I got back home with the replacement queen, and went through them again, they seemed stronger than I remembered, with more brood than I realized at first. So I re-queened the one with no brood (#4) and started heating water to make the heavy syrup.

2:1 Mix

One pot with 12 lbs water (1 ½ gallons)  + 24 lbs sugar (6 x 4 lb bags)

One pot with 16 lbs water (2 gallons) + 32 lbs sugar (8 x 4 lb bags)

Note: It dawned on me that I had no idea why lb is the abbreviation for pounds so I Googled it.

{Lb is an abbreviation of the Latin word libra. The primary meaning of libra was balance or scales (as in the astrological sign), but it also stood for the ancient Roman unit of measure libra pondo, meaning “a pound by weight.”}

Once I added double the sugar, the mixture no longer fit in my two largest pots, so I had to ladle half of it out into a five gallon bucket before mixing it all up. Such a heavy concentration of sugar does not dissolve as easily as the 1:1 mix so it was hard to not make a sticky mess all over the kitchen while briskly stirring it all up and then pouring it all into eight one gallon jugs to cool. What a pain.

I fed them every 2-3 days for four feedings and the bees filled their empty honey frames back up. Wouldn’t you think they could find food on their own? I am starting to think that there is just not enough natural forage around here for bees to make it. Corn, soybeans and grass occupy most of the open spaces near here and they do not provide much nectar. (Click on the green link for a list of nectar producing plants.)  Maybe I should move them to a wilder area with less farmland, but then it would be harder to find the time to check on them, and bears would be more of an issue. Here, at least I can see them and they are behind a woven wire fence.

The Queen

A week after re-queening, on October 22nd, I went in to remove the cage and found the new queen still inside, with a bunch of other bees. She had not moved into the hive. Bizarre. So, I pried the screen off to let her out and before I could stop her, she flew away! Geesh.

I called Ed again.

“Will she come back?”

He laughed.

“Nope. You’d better come get another one.”

I jumped in my car and headed over to Back Creek and Geezer Ridge. Since she had not ever started laying, he replaced her free of charge, luckily. I came back and installed her.

I waited too long for a warm, non windy day to open the hives back up again and check on her. It was 2 weeks, on November 6th, when I checked all the hives for brood again. I went through and fed them some regular 1:1 syrup mix and gave them each half a pollen patty.

When I got to hive #4 I pulled out the queen cage only to find that, not only was she still in there, the bees had not even chewed through the candy plug to let her out! I should have checked sooner, I know. They can feed her through the screen and she still looked OK, so I carefully released her into the bottom hive and quick covered it back up so she would not fly out.

I do not have high hopes. Talk about discouraged. I am seriously thinking that if I can just get them to somehow make it through winter and pay me back in the spring through selling splits that I might get back out of this bee thing. I have about had it.

-Wendy lee, writing at Edgewisewoods Gardens and Critters

 

 

 

Bees, Queens, Mites and Beetles -September 2016

My bees are having a hard time these days. There are Small Hive Beetles (SHB) attacking their space.  I installed screened bottom boards onto the bottoms of the hives because they have a slide out tray the larvae drop onto from above. Weekly I collect the cappings and pollen they have destroyed which has fallen into the tray, along with the numerous white, wiggling beetle larvae. It is disgusting and I kill them by scraping  it all into plastic shopping bags and freezing them for a few days. Some I have then sieved out, so only the pollen remains. The rest I feed to the chickens. This does not bode well for my bees.

Pollen and Small Hive Beetle Larva
Pollen and Small Hive Beetle Larva

Beetles

I have twice now, on September 8th and 25th, drenched the ground around the hives with Permithrin insecticide to kill any pupating SHB larvae in the soil. This is supposed to do the trick but I have not seen positive results yet. I still have a lot of larvae showing up on the slide out trap drawers. Supposedly, I should see a drop in populations at three weeks, which is later this week. I am keeping my fingers crossed.

Top Feeders and Supers
Top Feeders and Supers

I installed honey supers on  the first five hives on July 20th but after a month, only the number two hive had drawn out any comb, so  I removed the supers and the syrup feeders from the  other four hives on August 22nd. I had been feeding them 1:1 syrup all this time so they would have the energy to excrete wax and draw new comb out on the foundations. The bees seemed really strong there for awhile and I was hoping I might even get some honey. But no. Plan B was that they would at least get the supers prepped with drawn comb so next year they would not have to work so hard.

Mites

To combat the Varroa Mites, which all beekeepers must assume we have these days, and which is most likely what killed my bees the last two winters, I have hung two Apivar miticide impregnated strips in each deep hive body (except #2 which had the super left on longer). I am seriously hoping that this will kill all the mites and enable me to overwinter my bees this year. The last two years I had only treated with HopGuard, which is considered organic, but it did not work well enough to kill all the mites, so I am using the harder stuff this year. This is what Ed Forney of Geezer Ridge uses and recommends, and since he manages to keep all his bees alive, I am following his advice  this year.

Feeding

I am still feeding pollen patties to all 6 hives, about every week to ten days, to help the bees feed their brood. The Goldenrod  and Autumn Asters are blooming now but, according to Charles, a beekeeper who moves his bees up and down the East coast following crops, the bees around here don’t utilize these plants here so much. He tells me it is an elevational thing and that up in Pennsylvania, at higher latitudes, the bees are all over the Goldenrod. I don’t see very many on the plants here in my yard, but the wasps seem to like it.

Queens

September 18th, while going through the hives and laying the pollen patties between the two hive bodies, I discovered that hive # 3 had no brood and no larvae on their frames. So, no queen. I have no idea what happened to their queen but now I need a new one. A fellow beekeeper showed me a photo of the frames in her Russian queened hive that were absolutely brimming with brood, so I bought my new queen from the same place she had. Charles lives fairly close by and raises queens himself, which means they have not been stressed by shipping at least. I borrowed a frame of capped brood from hive #1 and installed the new Russian queen (another $36)  in hive #3 on September 20th. This is the fourth queen I have had to buy this year, even though all of my hives are new this year. I had one package arrive with a dead queen, and the others have disappeared for unknown reasons.

Queen Cage
Queen Cage

Today, I will order  some more Apivar from Mann Lake, which will cost me $10.40 each double deep hive, since I am ordering a 50 strip package this time. It was about a dollar a strip more when I was buying it in 10 strip packages. Then I can remove the super and treat hive #2 for mites. I will have to treat all six hives again next spring and fall, so I can definitely use the larger amount.

Meanwhile, I attend every workshop and monthly class I am able to and I am also planning on working with another beekeeper close to me  so I can learn as much as possible about keeping bees. So far it is an uphill battle and I admire anyone who does it for fun. I am finding it a little stressful myself, as well as expensive.

-Wendy lee Maddox, writing at Edgewisewoods, Gardens and Critters