First Powdered Sugar Varroa Treatment a Great Success!

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I opened up my hives today and was chagrined to see that Hive 1 had some bees with wing and abdomen abnormalities due to varroa mite infestation. My other two hives also have mites but seem to be chugging along for now. I finally saw the queen of Hive 1 as well, which was excellent, but it was obvious that something needed to be done.

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Deformed bee

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Hive 1 queen

I’ve done scads of research online on the efficacy of the powdered sugar treatment. Some people say it works, some people say it’s a waste of time. The theory is that the sugar is just the right size to get under the mites’ feet and unstick them from the bees as they groom it off each other. It won’t do anything for the mites inside the cells, but you can treat multiple times to get them once they emerge. For instance, once a week for three weeks. I decided I had nothing to lose, so I installed my new DIY screened bottom board and got out a cup of icing sugar.

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At least this treatment is easy to apply! I dumped the cup of sugar on the top brood box and brushed it in between all the frames. I soon had a bunch of very white, very pissed off bees.

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Then I closed it up and waited. But not for long… Less than an hour later I had to check and see the results, if any. I pulled out the tray and my jaw absolutely dropped.

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It was totally loaded with mites! I counted probably around 600 mites and after I waited another couple of hours there were easily 1000 mites on the tray, struggling in the sugar. That is a LOT of phoretic varroa.

I am SO glad that I decided to do this treatment. I immediately got to work making two more screened bottom boards for my other hives and they will be getting treated as soon as possible. I plan to give them all a weekly treatment for at least three weeks or until the mite drop is significantly lowered. I’m so glad that I didn’t have to resort to any harsh chemicals and I’m incredibly impressed with how this simple trick has worked.

Spring Bee Hive Cleaning

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We finally had a nice enough day for me to open up all my hives, go through each frame and tidy everything up. It took a good hour per hive, but was very informative!

All three hives had capped and open brood that was concentrated in the top box. For this reason, I inverted all my brood boxes so that the top box was on the bottom and the bees could start to work upward as they seem to prefer to do.

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A dirty bottom board after a long winter

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Cleaning up

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Moldy comb. A strong hive will clean this right up and use it with no problems

All the bottom boards were extremely dirty and needed a good scraping or replacing. It felt really good to get all that detritus out of there as it’s just a breeding ground for pests and mold. My hives were a little damp inside, even to the point where I saw some slugs hiding out and some mold on a few unused frames. I think I really have to get going making and installing quilt boxes and screened bottom boards to improve the airflow situation.

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You can see two shiny brown varroa mites clinging to the back of the bee near the middle

Sadly, I did notice varroa mites in all three hives after a whole year of not seeing a single one. Hive 1 had some visible phoretic mites while the other two had mites revealed in some of the capped brood that was broken when I removed frames and cross-comb. I’m thinking of trying a powdered sugar treatment regimen but am still in the research stages of figuring out efficacy. I’ll also need to install screened bottom boards first. I don’t like the ones available for sale locally so I’m working on my own design, which I’ll share in an upcoming post.

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Hive 2’s queen

A lovely surprise was coming across two of my queens totally by accident! I wasn’t even looking for queens, just checking for eggs. I guess all the research I’ve been doing over the winter has made me better able to spot them because they really jumped out at me, visibly. Hive 2’s queen was looking a little small to me compared to the big feral mated queen from Hive 3. Not sure if that will become an issue or not. I know the smaller queen is older and this hive has the smallest population, so we’ll see if it’s prudent to requeen this year or not.

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Hive 3’s feral mated queen

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One hive had a little bit of drone brood started, and I added an empty frame to each hive so they can build more. This will allow me to do drone trapping which will help with mite control. It also means that it’s almost swarm season and split season. Yay!

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A little bit of bullet-shaped drone brood at the top of the frame

The biggest job was scraping off all the burr comb and built up propolis so the frames would sit neatly once again. I was actually hoping to get stung during this work as I’ve been told that getting stung more will help build up antibodies and make me less susceptible to developing a bee venom allergy. Even my most defensive hive refused to oblige me though so I may have to start taking matters into my own hands, literally. At least stinging yourself gives you the option of where you get stung!

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Some broken drone brood

During the frame cleaning some capped brood was inevitably broken open. Never a happy thing but it gave me a chance for something I’ve been wanting to try, which is tasting bee larvae. They have a nutty, slightly sour taste. Not particularly unpleasant. I’ve read that the reason bears try to break open hives is primarily to get at the protein-rich brood while the honey simply serves as a nice dessert.

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Happy bees!

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Bring on the 2017 beekeeping season! šŸ™‚

 

 

How Much Honey is in a Single Frame?

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I never realized how much honey a single beehive can produce!

Just from one deep frame harvested yesterday using the crush and strain method, I got a total of over 5.5lbs of honey! That’s even after all the honey I managed to eat yesterday during the straining process.

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Blocking out the sun

As you can see, the honey is very, very dark. It’s impossible to see through even when held directly up to the sun! You’d expect it to be strong-tasting, but it’s not. It’s incredibly light and citrusy. I assume the dark color is because my bees have primarily been foraging on wildflowers. I did notice while processing that the honey at the top of the frame was much lighter, and mixed with the darker honey lower down to produce the final color. Quite interesting.

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Clean up crew

You’d think honey harvesting would be messy work and it kind of is, but don’t forget that any sticky equipment can be placed out near the hives and the bees (and wasps) will do the cleaning up for you. Zero waste. Honey also cleans up very easily with plain water.

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Thank you ladies!

 

 

 

First Honey Harvest!

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I decided to go into hive 1 today, the one started from a nuc this year, as last inspection it looked like they might be honey bound.

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They were. Although I did find a little bit of capped brood in the top deep, all available cells were quickly being filled up with nectar and there was nowhere left for the queen to lay. Since I need her to rear bees now so we’ll have bees to overwinter, I decided to free up some space. I know I said before that I wasn’t going to harvest from this hive this year, but that honey had to go somewhere!

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I decided to remove two deep frames that were completely full of capped honey. I also did some rearranging of the frames in the two deeps and added two fresh frames with foundation into the brood nest for them to get started on. I would have used foundationless, but so far all my deep frames have plasticell foundation, so I guess it needs to be used somehow. Here’s hoping they’ll draw it out quickly and give the queen room for more egg laying.

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IĀ  shook off as many bees as possible and brushed the stragglers off with a bee brush. It was fairly straightforward and the bees were not too agitated. The frames weighed probably about 8-10 pounds each and I transferred them to a clean, lidded Rubbermaid bin once they were free of bees.

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Once inside my kitchen, I scraped off the comb into a large container with a wooden spoon, and then strained it through a stainless steel sieve into jars. It is a very dark colored honey on very yellow wax.

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I have to admit, I’ve never been a huge fan of honey and I don’t eat a lot of it. It always seems to have a bit of a strange aftertaste to me. The harvest from one frame is more than I generally consume in a year. Well, I’m now a fresh honey convert. This is the most delicious honey I have ever tasted! It’s tangy, floral, citrusy and light with no weird metallic aftertastes. I could see myself eating it out of the jar with a spoon and wanting to drizzle it on everything. I managed to spill a drop on the counter where it hit a stray szechuan peppercorn from an earlier recipe, and it was an amazing combination! I even drizzled some on the soft boiled eggs I had for lunch and it was divine. Apparently fresh honey goes with everything!

I’m so excited to have some to bring with me to share with my family on my upcoming Seattle trip!

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Hive Inspection: Differences

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Cracked open my three hives today, and I’m beginning to see some real differences between them.

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Hive 1 (far left), which was started from a nuc in May, has two deep brood boxes and a honey super. I’m switching to foundationless frames and all the uppermost supers have them, so while they still haven’t touched their honey super, they have absolutely filled their top deep with capped honey. I could barely lift out the frames!

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This hive is always super active with lots of new bees doing their orientation flights each day, so I didn’t look into the bottom box. I probably will check it in a week or so just to make sure they’re not honey-bound. I fed this hive for quite awhile so I won’t be harvesting honey from them this year, but there’s still time to make more bees. I’ve also noticed that this hive really likes to propolize! It’s like a sticky orange wonderland in there.

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Hive 2 (middle) seems to be doing the best of all the hives. It was the half of the split I did in May that had the queen in it, so they’ve been going strong since the beginning. They haven’t touched their topmost super either, but they have already filled the one below it. When I looked at it I saw lots of capped honey but also a small amount of open and capped brood.

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I don’t mind a bit of brood in the honey super as I won’t be harvesting from this hive either this year, since they were also fed for a short time. Eventually I plan to move to all medium boxes so anything they want to do is fine, it can always be moved. Despite all the brood, strangely this hive is the one where there is not a whole lot of entrance activity on most days.

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Hive 3 (far right) is the half of the split that made their own queen. They’re still doing just fine and have two supers full of honey now, although the top box is still undrawn as with the other hives. I did notice this hive is slightly more defensive. There were more bees flying and I actually received a sting on the back when I mowed in front of it yesterday. Just a subtle difference really but interesting to note. I wonder if the queen found some feral bees to mate with which might explain it?

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Today I came prepared with a bottle full of sugar syrup to spray on the frames of all the untouched top supers. Hopefully once they start to clean it up they’ll be inspired to start drawing out comb. They’re all certainly running out of room and the pollen and nectar keep flowing in.

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One of my reasons for switching to foundationless frames is that I want to breed smaller bees. Bees will grow to the size of the cell they develop in. Natural cell size is about 4.6mm to 4.9mm, while over the years we’ve moved them up to a standardized 5.4mm. That’s the size of most of the foundation you’ll find commercially available. We did this because bigger bees have longer tongues that can access deeper flowers, and they can collect more nectar and pollen. However, varroa mites like bigger bees too because they take longer to gestate, which is how the mites reproduce.

If you let the bees draw their own comb, eventually after a few generations they will revert back to natural cell size. This will give them an added advantage over varroa. Since treatment free beekeeping is my objective, this will help us get there.

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Festooning Bees

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I did another hive inspection a few days ago, still no work on any of the upper supers by any of the hives. I did notice some festooning though, which is a good sign. Festooning is when bees hang from each other in the shape of the future comb they’re planning to build, like little plumb bobs. It’s quite an elegant thing to behold.

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Of course there’s still lots of honey, nectar and bee bread to be found. I hope they’re not honey bound. Still haven’t seen a single varroa mite.

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Hive Inspection: Our First Honey!

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Decided to open the hives up today and see if anybody needed a new honey super. It’s hard to believe I’ve only had my bees for two months, it sort of feels like I’ve always had them. They are so fascinating to observe and learn about.

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First up was the hive I started from a nuc in May. They got a new honey super last week with mixed plastic foundation and wax starter strips. I was hopeful they had done something in there during that time, anything, but they haven’t touched it.

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I didn’t want to disturb them too much but I did notice lots of capped honey on the tops of the brood frames below, so they’re not doing absolutely nothing. The outer frames of their top deep brood box are still only half drawn as well, but coming along. I decided to start feeding them 50/50 sugar syrup again just so they can get a boost on beginning to draw out that comb.

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Finally drawing out the outer brood frames

 

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Just getting started on this medium frame

I’ve read that the pH of sugar water is around 6.0, while the pH of nectar is closer to 4.2. This imbalance can cause health problems for the bees so it’s best to keep feeding to an absolute minimum. I’ll probably feed this hive until they get their honey super comb well underway and then stop for good unless the bees are starving. Once I have some reserves of drawn comb to fall back on, I’ll be in a much better position.

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The two split hives on the other hand were doing great. Both honey supers that were added back in May are almost completely full of honey! I’m realizing now the wisdom of those who told me that switching to all medium boxes is the way of the future. Even a single medium frame full of honey is surprisingly heavy!

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Some uncapped nectar

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Look at all that capped honey!

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Om nom nom

I might harvest a frame or two of honey this year, but for the most part I’m expecting to leave it for the bees since this is our first year.

I’ve been learning about the natural beekeeping method spoken about by Michael Bush, which is based on not treating bees and instead allowing weak bee genetics to die out and strong/hygienic genetics to take over. He makes a good point when he says that treating varroa mites only selects for stronger varroa and weaker bees. The theory is that if everyone stops treating for varroa, the bees will adapt within a few years and it will never be a serious problem again. Of course a lot of bees will die initially, but those are all bees with weak genetics anyway.

When the tracheal mite became the latest new threat to beekeeping back in the 80s, many beekeepers began treating for them. As soon as varroa came onto the scene, they stopped treating for tracheal so they could treat for varroa, and the losses from tracheal mites resolved itself quite well in just a few years. Now nobody really treats for tracheal mites.

The ecology of a beehive contains many microorganisms other than just bees, including a documented 170 types of mites. Damaging that ecology with pesticides and antimicrobial essential oils doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. I’ve made the decision to attempt to go treatment free with my hives and see what happens. I’ve already secured a few potential sites in friend’s yards so if I need to boost my hive numbers to ensure survival, that’s just what we’ll do.

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