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.

DIY Convertible Screened/Solid Bottom Board

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I mentioned in the previous post how I didn’t really like the screened bottom board options available to me locally, not to mention the fact that they were all very expensive. All the designs I saw online seemed overly complicated or had what I perceived as flaws.

I have a lot of raw cedar boards left over from fencing my yard, and I figured this was a great way to use some of them up. Not to mention this is a very simple design that doesn’t require any rabbets.

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Solid bottom board base

I had seen a bottom board similar to this on the University of Guelph’s beekeeping videos on Youtube, but couldn’t find instructions to build them anywhere. It’s a two-part design that can be used either as a solid bottom board, or as a screened bottom board with mite collection tray. My design is a little bit different from theirs as I’ve incorporated a small landing strip. It’s not necessary for the bees but I like the look of it.

The unit consists of a simple solid bottom board made from two 1 by 2 by 21 1/4″ rails and a 1 by 2 by 14 5/8″ back rail. (These are all exact dimensions, I’m not using dimensional lumber for this.) I used 3/4″ thick boards for the base but you could also use plywood. It’s assembled with screws, nails and glue. The two inch entrance is a bit large, but it can be made smaller with an entrance reducer. The reason I kept it at two inches, is that I’ve read you get a better mite kill if they fall at least two inches down.

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Screened top piece

The second piece is a separate screened insert made from two 1 by 1 by 21 1/4″ rails and two 1 by 1 by 16 5/8″ rails, with a piece of 15 3/4″ by 21 3/8″ hardware cloth stapled to it (also known as #8 or 1/8″ galvanized or stainless steel mesh). I stapled the mesh to the long sides and back first, then screwed on the “landing porch” rail and stapled the mesh down well along the lip. If you go over the mesh edge and staples well with a hammer it presses it down into the wood giving you a relatively smooth entry point.

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Back view with screen installed and quality control crew

The genius of this design is that to use it as a screened bottom board, you simply turn the solid board around and place the screen on top. The old solid board entrance now becomes the back where you can insert your mite board or oil pan. Since the wood edges are all flush, there’s no lip under the mesh for the mites to land on and crawl back up, an issue I’ve noticed with a lot of other designs.

I will most likely use recycled plastic core-flute (coroplast) for my mite boards, and screw another piece of cedar to the edge of them to cover most of the back opening and serve as a removal handle. The large two inch space would allow you to fit a large metal roasting pan underneath filled with oil if desired. You don’t want to leave the two inch gap at the back wide open as bees have been known to build mini-hives under the screen in that space! You’ll also want to make sure the unit sits on some kind of stand so the flat bottom board is not in direct contact with the ground where it can wick up moisture.

I really like the versatility and simplicity of this design, and I love that I’m only really paying for the cost of the mesh and hardware. I finish the bases off with a few coats of tung oil and they’re ready to install!

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With screened board installed

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With screen removed

Putting the Bees to Bed for Winter

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Hive 3, bursting at the seams

Well, today looked like it might be the last nice day for awhile, so I decided to get my hives set up for the cold season. My plan was to move them a couple of feet forward so they would get a little more sun, check for hive health and honey stores, and remove any supers with undrawn comb. Big job!

First I opened my nuc hive. I’ve been a little worried about this hive since the population seems to have dwindled and I sometimes see a wasp go inside. Upon opening them though they seemed like they had pretty solid numbers and I returned the two harvested honey frames I took out in August for them to clean up.

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The girls carrying out wax debris from the harvested frames

Hive 2, my split hive that kept the original queen was not doing as well as I thought. Here I was thinking they had so much going on that they were overflowing the brood nest into the honey super, when the reality was that their bottom deep hadn’t been touched all year. What the heck ladies? That will teach me not to check. I removed it and left them with one deep and one medium for the winter.

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Both these hives seemed a bit light to me so I decided to start feeding them. I don’t like to feed if I don’t have to, but I would rather feed than lose hives to starvation. Since it’s fall, they are getting a 2:1 heavy sugar syrup which they will be able to store more quickly since it needs less time to reduce in moisture content.

Then we have Hive 3, the one that requeened itself with feral drones. This hive is like a bee explosion went off inside! All three mediums and one deep totally overflowing with bees. Tons of honey and tons of attitude. Working this hive is like dealing with a lion while the other two hives are pussycats. Once I started taking boxes apart they freaked out and all jumped out at me, letting me know how annoyed they were. I didn’t get stung but it was still pretty intimidating! I decided that this hive didn’t really need to be moved two feet and left it in place to avoid total chaos.

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It was very interesting to me to see how well this locally queened hive has fared this year. They were the ones with the most disadvantage as they had no queen for weeks after the split. Could their extra defensiveness have anything to do with how well they did? At least I can be fairly confident that this large healthy hive will survive the winter. Of course, it also means that I have to deal with touchier bees in spring. In a way I don’t really mind but I’m not sure I would want to give these genetics to a brand new beekeeper.

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During my inspections today, I still did not see a single hive beetle, wax moth, varroa mite (alive or dead) or any signs of k-wing disease. I know at the last bee club meeting some people reported tons of mites while others reported none. I hope I’m not being naive in assuming my hives are relatively clean. I didn’t treat for anything this year so we’ll just have to wait and see.

A few last things that need to be done before it gets too cold are to put on entrance reducers with mouse guards and construct some top quilts to control moisture. All easy and quick projects.

Supposedly there is some very nasty weather headed our way over the next few days that is projected to be as bad as the worst storm in recorded history in the Northwest. Wish us all luck!

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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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All (Queen) Right!

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Look at all the beautiful brood!

It’s been a little less than a month since I did the walkaway split with my largest hive. I had intended to check it at two weeks, but tax paperwork, weather and farm chores all got in the way. All three of my hives looked busy and healthy from the outside so I just let them “bee”.

Today was a beautiful sunny day and I decided it was time to open everyone up and see what the situation was. First I opened up the hive that I started from a nuc back in May. They were doing great, lots of bees, lots of brood, lots of honey. No problems there.

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This hive is so gentle it’s like they don’t even realize I’m there. Not to mention it’s nice working with a hive that’s all fresh new woodenware and frames. They were getting pretty full so I gave them a new honey super with half plastic foundation and half beeswax starter strips. The frames with foundation will hopefully help to keep the comb on the foundationless frames straight. I’m excited to see how the frames with the strips work out because I’d rather move away from plastic if I can. The beeswax strips are cheap, easy to install, and will allow the bees to build any kind of comb they want. If they want to fill it with drone comb, they can bee my guest. I just want it built straight!

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The starter strip is taken from a sheet of Dadant size wax foundation. I can get five 1 1/8″ strips from one sheet so two sheets will do all ten frames. The strip is secured by dripping wax from a beeswax candle into three spots and holding the strip straight until they harden. Easy. Plus this way I’ll be able to harvest some comb honey at some point which is the ultimate goal.

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Next I opened the hive that I suspected had been the queenless half of the split. Same thing, lots of bees, a beautiful brood pattern and eggs and larvae in all stages. I did also find what looked like a single opened queen cup. Didn’t see the queen, but I know she’s in there doing a fantastic job.

One thing that concerned me a little was the condensation buildingĀ  up under the lid. Just another reason I would like to build and install some top quilts before winter as well as look into some slatted racks and screened bottom boards. I think more ventilation will be a good thing.

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You can see a few empty queen cups

Hive three had been the stronger side of the split, with two full boxes of bees to start off with. I had assumed the queen was in this hive, but when I opened it up there were a good dozen or so queen cups that were long empty. This hive was the least gentle of the three, which wasn’t to say they were aggressive, just a little more upset that I was taking their house apart. It could have been partly because there were quite a few frames sticking together when I lifted the top boxes off and they shifted around a little. Also maybe because my smoker was kind of puttering out by that point. Still no stings so I’m not complaining.

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Hive three looked pretty darn good! Tons of capped brood in a good solid pattern and lots of honey, even though this was the hive I hadn’t fed.

I did a cursory inspection for varroa mites, and couldn’t see a single one clinging to any bee in any of the hives. Once I get my screened bottom boards I can do a 24 hour mite check and that will help determine if I need to treat before winter. I think I prefer the method of allowing the bees a frame to build up with drone comb, and then just freezing it once it’s filled with brood. Varroa mites prefer drone brood because their gestation is longer, so that’s a good natural method of control.

Once again I didn’t use my gloves today. When gloved fingers get covered with propolis and stick together, it can be dangerous and I almost dropped a frame the one time I did use them. I suppose my hands are now stained orangey-yellow for awhile, but maybe the propolis will help to heal the dozen or so barn owl bites I got from gearing up an uncooperative male with his transmitter yesterday!

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