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Dadant’s 150th Anniversary Celebration, Part 4

Part 1 here.  Part 2 here.  Part 3 here.

Fingers licked.  Cookies out of the oven.  On to Part 4!  On this one, I had to try really hard to keep my mind open.  Jerry Hayes recently went to work for Monsanto so my kneejerk reaction is to throw rotten GMO tomatoes at him.  I’ll try to give an objective report of his presentation below.  Don’t throw rotten GMO tomatoes at me since I’m just the messenger, okay?  FYI:  Dadant who put on this whole weekend — and whose staff I love and respect, is now in bed with Monsanto as well. 

Jerry Hayes is a well known bee dude, authoring the “Classroom” in the American Bee Journal for oodles of years.  Read his short article on his new job with Monsanto here.

The apiary industry is under siege from pests, disease, and CCD.  Many of these are newly introduced and our bees are unadapted.  Some stats on colony mortality rates in recent years:

  • 2006-2007:  32%
  • 2007-2008:  36%
  • 2008-2009:  29%
  • 2009-2010:  31%
  • 2010-2011:  30%
  • 2011-2012:  25%

And, while the final stats are not yet official, he said the 2012-2013 mortality rate is estimated to be at 40%.  Wow.

We’ve now reached a tipping point:  Ag-planted pollinator crops now outpace available pollinators.

Colony Losses

Much is due to the globalization and homogenization of pests.  Production ag and production beekeeping add to the problems.  (Nutrition diversity used to be a given.  Now big ag with its monocrops have taken much of that away.)  Pesticides are misused by consumers.  Productive hive locations are being eliminated.  Entomophobia is a factor.  Low honey prices and low pollination prices mean less beekeepers.

Parasitic varroa mites are 70-80% of the problem.  They came to the U.S. 30 years ago.  Varroas to bees are like fist-sized ticks to you.  (Yikes!)  Varroas are like the dirty needles of the bee world:  The transmit diseases and leave open wounds to become infected, etc.

Beekeeper Chemicals

Before varroa mites, beekeepers were against using chemical on their hives.  Once varroa arrived, the beekeepers began welcoming chemical treatments.  However, using chemicals to treat the problem is “trying to kill a small bug on a big bug”.  Beeswax is a big sponge and soaks up the beekeeper-introduced chemicals.  That leads to the chemicals being not only in the wax but the honey and bee bread stored in the wax, as well as the brood raised in the wax.  The bees are then exposed to the chemicals 24/7.

Bee Health Challenges

Primary stress (such as moving hives), varroa, secondary pathogens, management, pesticides, nutrition, nosema.  Honeybee health is very complex, interrelated, and intertwined.  When something gets out of balance, it all becomes a mess.

Ecosystem Stability

There is a complex relationship, all interconnected between soil, organisms, and water.  If the system is healthy, it can rebalance itself as needed.

Bee Ecosystem

The bee ecosystem is not rebalancing itself now.  It is very important that we help it do so because bees are valuable to everyone, not just beekeepers.

Enter Beeologics

Jerry referred to this as “natural technology”, a product that will dive into DNA/RNA arena.  “Remebee” works with the RNA to turn off/on disease  — basically RNA interference to control expression of certain genes.

Monsanto is a Good Guy

Jerry told us that Monsanto has done great things.  They’re just really bad about telling us about these wonderful things they’ve done for us.  Jerry is the only honeybee guy at Monsanto.  He joined up with them to help work for a way to get away from chemicals, supporting the use of RNAi instead, for a number of issues.

Project Apis m.

The almond crops out in California need the bees but the lack of nutritional diversity is doing them harm.  The object of Project Apis m. is to increase that nutritional diversity, let the bees have at natural foods, by planting acreage in California.  Why is this important to the beekeeping industry?  Because bees are important, as are their losses.  Monsanto supports the beekeeping industry.

30% of our bees have been lost in the last five years.  By 2030, our human population will further increase and we will need more productivity, more efficiency.  Why does this matter?  Because people just assume that the food supply will be there.  But it will not.  40% of veggies will be from non U.S. sources, according to a USDA projection.  The U.S. will be a net food importer within 50 years.  Food security, food independence, is a worthy goal.

Blech,  Sorry.  I had to spit that out quickly while holding my nose.  Heh.  Shall we cleanse our blog palates by looking at the giant piles of attendees?

To my right:


To my left:


And there were a gazillion more people behind me.  At the pre-registered portion of the weekend alone, there were 800 attendees.  I don’t even want to guess how many more attended the ope-for-all tours.  And guess how much all of this cost us?  Nothing!  Dadant gave tours, goodies bags, door prizes, meals & snacks, and all of the other things that went along with the weekend — for free. 

Okay, I have to put this last pic in.  Leann’s going to kill me but I think it’s funny because I was there for the $64,000 conversation.  :-D  (Inside joke, sorry.)


Okay, back to the next presentation?

Randy Olive hit the stage again with “Concepts in Practical Management of Varroa”.

Bees have the highest recombination rate of any organism so they evolve & adapt very quickly.

Varroa Management for the Long Haul

Understand the varroa population dynamics!   The mite levels stay (relatively) static while the bee population waxes & wanes.  The bee population peaks the first of July (in his location) and that means the bee:mite ratio is a good one.  Once the bee population declines, the relative ratio explodes and problems set in.

Varroa are not the big problem themselves.  It’s that they vector viruses.  Our purpose, as beekeepers, should not be to control disease but to control the vectors.  Once you get above 5 mites per 100 bees, viruses go epidemic.  Less than 2 mites per 100 bees, and life is good in Bee Land.  Then there’s that middle ground between 2 and 5 mites per 100 bees — the Danger Zone, if you will.

Do not limit yourself to just one “fix”.  Use IPM (integrated pest management), using pesticides as a last resort.

Breed for resistance.  Dr. Tom Rinderer now has two lines of bees bred that require no treatment.  (Interesting article here on Randy’s website.)  Feral and survivor bees hold hope, surviving with no treatments.  Mite-resistant bees need little-to-no help with mites and need little virus help as well.

Varroa has an easily disturbed life cycle.  Mess with its birth rate and/or death rate, any step of varroa reproduction, and you stay one step ahead of them & trouble.

You never have to kill all the mites.  You shouldn’t.  Some will always survive — survival of the fittest and that will breed resistance in the mites.  You should knock them back little by little.  He had some fancy charts here with pretty little numbers on viable offspring, reproductive success, and “safe zones”.  I’ll have to see if he has those available on his website.

Produce locally-bred and -adapted queens.  Breed from the healthiest colonies.  Slowly drop those mite limits from year to year.  That 2 mites/100 bees is good thing from before?  He’s gotten it down to nearly zero after working on it for some time.

Cultural methods:  Keeping hives in the sun and away from trees helps with many diseases.  Use drone brood trapping — check for mites first and, if high numbers are seen, toss those drones to knock back the numbers.  Powered sugar dusting that seems to be common these days?  He says it works to some extent but not really that much.

Do splits to reduce mite loads.  Splitting breaks that mite reproductive cycle, the bees take a break from drone rearing, and you have a new, vigorous queen.  That means an explosion in bee population — which outpaces the mite population.  Keep ahead of that curve.  (Graph would be helpful here.  Argh.)

Protein favors bees.  Promote broodrearing in late summer.  I assume this meant to supply pollen substitutes if necessary?  My notes are not clear here.  Must have been an interesting discussion at the table. 

You may not see mites but you may see viruses.  Dead/dying bees will be out of the hive but you might see DWV.

Monitor to prevent overpopulation of mites.  Sticky boards are unreliable methods of monitoring mite numbers.  Instead, use an alcohol wash.  (Shake off bees into a tub.  Older bees will fly off.  Younger bees and the queen will remain.  Take a 1/2 cup of bees (not the queen!) and pour rubbing alcohol over them.  The mites will fall off and sink to the bottom.  Use a clear jar to do this and you can count the mites you see.  There should never be more than six mites per 1/2 cup of bees.)

Don’t let mite numbers get high.  Prevent that before it gets too high.  As few as 1 mite per 100 bees in the spring will suppress your honey production.

Times to monitor:  In the spring — look at the drone comb.  Look again before putting supers on.  Monitor often while you’re harvesting honey.

Watch the weather.  If you’re having a stretch of warmer weather, the mite population will increase.  (Warm weather = brood rearing = more mites.)  If it’s a cooler time of year, there will be less mites.

Be proactive.  Figure out the timing and work with it.

For Randy, mid-August is the most critical time, the bees begin prepping for winter.

Use appropriate treatment when necessary.  First, do no harm (such as persistent residues).  Most treatments are hard on the bees.  All miticides increase adult bee mortality & some larval mortality.

Beware the delayed “legacy” effect of mites –> viruses –> CCD.

Knock the mites back, don’t try to knock them out.  Multiple, low-efficacy treatments are easier on the bees than fewer high-efficacy treatments.  The high efficacty treatments breeds for resistant mites and the population bottlenecks –> you end up with super mites.  A reasonable (mite) kill rate in this context is about 50%.

Treatment works best in the brood area where the mites are located and the temperatures are consistent.

Do not trust uproven concepts (“But the internet said…”).  Synthetic miticides = smart pesticides for dumb beekeepers.  Natural  treatments = dumb pesticides for smart beekeepers.  Essential oils (thymol most effective) and organic acids are natural treatments, according to Randy.  Use a half dose of what is recommended.  (Knock ‘em back, not down & out.)

Organic acids:  Formic acid is vaporizing and can be used with supers on.  Use a single strip between brood boxes.  Oxalic acid (not registered in the U.S.) doesn’t vaporize.  Hops beta acid is the third organic acid choice, called Hopguard.  Works best when there is no brood, early Nov/Dec for Randy.  It’s a byproduct of hops, works best when the colony is broodless, and needs three treatments to be effective.

Rotate treatment.  Randy uses oxalic acid, then thymol, then formic acid.  Choose the best treatment for conditions:  Oxalic in winter, formic during the main flow, and thymol in fall.

Mites can migrate 1-2 miles so, even if your hives are clean, your neighbors’ mites may still find their way to your bees.

Make life miserable for the mites.  Do spring splits, rotating natural treatments, and whatever it takes to break the mite and virus cycle.

Randy then went into treatment windows for nucs but I completely lost him here.  This is another thing I’ll have to look for on his website to see what in the heck he meant with theses crazy numbers & words in my notes.

Honey Bee Healthy is not a good choice, in his opinion.

Then there were three other presentations:

Setting up a Honey House, by Kent Robertson

Honey & Hive Product Marketing, by Charles & Karen Lorence

Queen Rearing and Making Spring Splits, by Ray Latner

Those three presentations were pretty quick & basic and, by then, my brain was shot and my hand was cramped into a jagged fist.  No more notes.  Zzzz….


Dadant’s 150th Anniversary Celebration, Part 3

Part 1 is here.  Part 2 is here.

Dr. James Tew took to the podium next to give his presentation:  The Unloved Drone.  See his PowerPoint slides of it here.  This man is a great speaker — very relaxed, human, and entertaining.  I think this man could talk about anything and I’d enjoy it.

The Unloved Drone

A colony produces 5,000 to 20,000 drones each year.  Only 100-200 of those drones are successful at what they do.  Ahem.  For comparison, each colony will produce 1-10 queens each year and 0-4 of those will be successful.  So, for every one queen produced, there are roughly 1000 drones produced.  13-17% of the (natural) brood nest will be drones.

There is a certain drone:worker ratio that the bees shoot for.  It will vary with the season — drones drift so the titer level fluctuates.  The workers decide what needs raised:  workers vs. drones (and, occasionally, queens).

Mites prefer drones due to their longer growth cycle.  A drone takes 23 days to develop and lives from 21 to 32 days.  Drones are usually fed by the workers but are capable of feeding themselves.  Once they are 14 days old, their mating flights begin.  They fly from mid-morning until mid-afternoon — and will do so every day, weather permitting.

Most people think that drones do nothing but, in reality, they have a few “jobs”.  Of course, they mate with the queen but they also add to the superorganism mass which helps to add temperature stability.  In addition, they serve as a food source (protein) for the hive.  In fall, they are all slaughtered.  Yummy yummy in the tummy tummy!  .That’s right, fellas.  if we get hungry and start looking at you funny, you’d best make your peace.

Drone Congregation Areas (DCAs)

(If you ever want to read some incredibly fascinating stuff, research DCAs!) 

DCAs are 30-200 yards across and in clear landscapes.  They are still very mysterious to us.  DCAs remain in the same location from year to year but they are no required.  If drones catch a queen on her way to the local SpermMart, they’ll do their thang right there in the parking lot of the Piggly Wiggly.  Hey, get a room, you two! 

Here’s where it gets so freaking exciting, I could pee my pants:

Each drone has one million sperm.  Each queen will mate multiple times.  Think you had a wild youth?  Queens are snickering at you right now, you know that, right?  They will mate multiple times.  Multiple.  As in enough to last through her entire life — and she only saves 10% of the sperm she gets.  There’s a buttload of genetic diversity to play with. Each drone has 16 chromosomes.

“16 chromosomes = 65,536 chromosomal combinations”

I know, right?  Amazing, amazing stuff here.  Dr. Tew also mentioned the “Herring Effect”:  The queen is escorted to/from the DCA.  In doing so, they may, in effect, “camouflage” the queen and help select which drones and, therefore, which genetics, get a chance at the queen.I’m telling you people.  This is cool stuff.

Laying Workers

Once the colony gets to this stage, they are beyond requeening.

Look for the signs:  a different “sound” to the hive, spotty brood, multiple eggs in single cells, and diminishing worker population, along with unsuccessful queen cells.  It’s probably laying workers.  This is “not insignificant” — rather, it’s the colony’s last chance at survival.  They’re trying to get some eggs laid and brood raised to send out a gene survival pod of sorts because they know the end is near.Using Drones for Varroa Control

We already know that mites prefer drones due to their longer development time.  Use this to our advantage.  Use drones as a “trap crop” to keep down the mite population before it gets a chance to build, thereby throwing that bee:mite ratio out of whack.  Dr. Tew mentioned a gadget called the Mite Zapper.  I’ll let you google that.  In a nutshell, though, you come out and plug this special frame of drone cells into an extension cord.  It heats up and cooks all of the mite-infested drones.  Voila. The colony then tosses the dead mites and eats the dead drones.  Win-win.  A more low-tech way to handle it is to either freeze the frames or just scrape & crush/destroy the suckers.

Seasonal Drone Sacrifice

In lean times, such as drought, drones are sacrificed to feed the colony.  Otherwise, the drones are all done away with in the fall.  Buh-bye, useless eaters.  *cue the Great Circe of Life song as we fade to a picture of Hannibal the Cannibal in his special mask*

Two more main presentations to go but I need to take a break to bake some cookies for tonight’s meeting.  I’ll try to get back here when I’m finished licking my fingers. 

Dadant’s 150th Anniversary Celebration, Part 2

Part 1 here.

Saturday morning, we were back bright & early — and a little more rested.  Still, I let the caffeine flow freely and had a much better day at not being a complete moron.  However, I’m afraid my notes are not up to my usual standard.  I was trying to take notes on the presentations while, at the same time, not missing a word of the discussion and debates at my table.  Much info was flying back and forth.  My brain soaked in most everything but my notetaking suffered.

First speaker of the day was Randy Oliver, Scientific Beekeeping, and was most excited to hear him speak.  He started off acknowledging that there is a lot of conflicting advice out there — one of my personal crazy buttons.  To simplify that, just go at it with the rules of beekeeping from the bees’ view:

  1. The need a warm, dry cavity.
  2. They need pollen & nectar sources.
  3. They need to manage parasites somehow.

Then he got into the colony goals:

  • Winter:  Don’t freeze to death.
  • Spring:  Reproduce the colony.
  • Summer & Fall:  Prepare for winter, putting away stores.

That’s all pretty simple from the bee viewpoint, isn’t it?  Heh.

The main enemies of bees are cold, poor nutrition, toxins, and parasites.


Keep in mind that it’s not about the individual bee/organism.  Rather, a colony of bees is a superorganism, about the size of a cat and it has to keep the same, constant temperature throughout the year.

Poor Nutrition:

Self-care will handle this unless problems crop up that depress immunoresponse.


Currently, everyone is focusing on the manmade toxins but there are also natural toxins.


These include varroa mites, nosema, and viruses.  (Did you know that there are (reportedly) no varroa mites in Australia yet?)

Recruitment – Attrition = Colony Strength

Recruitment, as used by Randy Oliver in his presentation, means replacement bees, brood raised by the colony.  (This helps to keep the bee:parasite ratio low enough for the bees to deal with.  During the spring build-up phase, the bees outgrow the parasites — more about that later.)  On the flip side, there’s attrition.  When bees get sick or start dying, they will fly off to die away from the hive.  When this happens at a very high rate, we get CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder).

The colony experiences a complete turnover of “staff” every 4-5 weeks.  Colony growth rate is a function of the bees’ average lifespan.  Nosema shortens the worker lifespan and productivity.  There are few visible signs of nosema.  You have to crush the affected bees, do some high-falutin’ sciencey stuff, and look at them under the microscope to know that it is nosema.

To swarm (reproduce the colony) is the colony’s #1 goal.

Cells are filled & packed with brood, resulting in explosive growth.  (A 3:1 bees:brood ratio is optimal in order to fully tend to the brood.  Keep this in mind when “reading” your frames.)  When the bees backfill and become honeybound, that’s the signal to swarm.  Here’s the interesting thing:  The swarm flies off mostly mite-free to a fresh start while the bees left behind get left with the parasites.  (My thought:  On the other hand, the left-behind bees get a fresh, new queen while the swarm takes the old one.  There’s more to that thought so maybe I’ll come back to it later.)

Goal #2 is to time the maximum population to coincide with the main nectar flow.  With this in mind, you should try to keep enlarging the honey-storing area so that they keep the honey coming, instead of becoming honeybound, which could signal the need to swarm.

In the summer, during the pollen dearth, there is little recruitment.  This is when the varroa population:bee population ratio reaches the critical level.  DWV (Deformed Wing Virus) becomes an issue.

Come fall, the bees begin broodrearing of the winter bees — criticial time to manage varroa.  (Although, he covered elsewhere that you should not wait for a critical time, rather to keep on top of it all along so that the parasites never reach that level.)  Good nutrition is a must at this time.

The Fall Population Turnover:

When the broodnest is small, the brood pheromone diminishes.  This sends the colony into survival mode.  Old bees abandon the colony to die and the population drops suddenly.  This further lowers the bee:mite ratio.  Looks for white, calcified deposits on the cells — this means mite problems.


There is no incoming pollen so there is no reproduction.  This is when the problems of the year catch up with the hive.  Nosema is a “cold weather” problem — a problem in those long-lived winter bees.  Paralytic viruses lead to deadouts in the early spring.

Spring Turnover

The now-old winter bees rear their replacements, make jelly & bee bread, and begin foraging.  Imagine a geriatric you, having to raise babies, do all of the housekeeping & cooking associated with that, while working a full time job to bring home the bacon.  Can you say tired and worn out?  An unsuccessful spring turnover can mean the bees just could not do the spring jobs required of them to get the colony up & running.

Colony Population Diagnostics

We’ beekeepers have all heard this — brood will be densely centered in the frame.  If you have spotty brood, something is wrong.  But, to take that further, the brood should be grouped by age.  The queen should lay in one area, moving further out — or on to other frames — as she goes so that brood ages are patterned.  The death rate can seem invisible as dying bees will fly away.  So, while the birth rate can be easily seen, the death rate is not so easily figured.

What you can do to gauge the population trend is look at the adult:brood ratio.  If the number of adults is high and brood is low (remember that optimal 3:1 ratio I mentioned?), then attrition is exceeding recruitment.

Inside Inspection

If you have a vigorous queen, ample pollen, and a good nectar flow, you’ll have good recruitment.  If the queen has a good retinue (her “ladies in waiting”, so to speak — workers will congregate around her, tending to her), that means she’ll be throwing good pheromones and the morale of the colony will be good.

Another thing to look for is wet brood.  Brood should be shiny & very wet.  If it’s not, there’s something wrong.  Dry brood means poor survival.  They could be protein deficient and, in that case, a good protein/pollen substitute could help.


The colony needs to thermoregulate.  (Remember that “cat” superorganism?)  They need a certain “mass” to do so successfully.

The strongest colonies, having the highest population of bees, will also have the highest population of mites.  In Randy’s experience, those strongest colonies had the biggest drops in strength.  (The bigger they are, the harder they fall?)  On the converse, his weaker hives were the ones who gained strength — yet also died out more.  I so wish I had all of his charts for you — they would make this so much easier to explain!  In his hives, he’s found that having a goal of 10-11 frames filled with bees is optimal.  (He has several hundred commercial hives in California that work the almond crops.)

The winter cluster fights the enemies:  nosema, varroa, viruses, and toxic residue. (Randy mentioned that maybe temperatures could possibly factor into when toxins are at their most… well, toxic.)  When the colony is at its weakest, it is most susceptible to failing from those things.  (In my mind, I liken this to people.  How you live when you’re younger catches up to  you in old age.  All of those stupid things you did when you were younger, such as not taking care of your health, may not have caused you much trouble then but you can bet it’ll all come back to bite you in the butt later in life.)  If all the stars are aligned and the bees hold their tongues just right — and there’s no frost at the wrong time — the bees can spontaneously recover if they’re able to keep the brood warm.


There are two types of Nosema:  apis and ceranae.  A microscope is the only way to diagnose nosema.  Nosema ceranae makes for increased colony mortality but other problems often mask the issues.  These pathogens spread by proximity, from hive to hive.  If you have nosema, it will drift from hive to hive, the hives being grouped together.  If you suspect nosema, isolate the sick colonies quickly and bolster recruitment any way you can.

That’s the end of Randy Oliver’s presentation on “Understanding Colony Health Issues”.  I’ll go ahead and post this so it’s not lost and get started on the next section.

Dadant’s 150th Anniversary Celebration, Part 1

Last weekend, Charlie and I headed up to Dadant to attend their 150th Anniversary Celebration.  We started off the morning at their candle facility in Kahoka, Missouri, where we met up with blogger Christopher Beeson of Show Me The Honey.  He did a great write up of all the tours here.

Now, some of you know how I get when I’m sleep deprived, right?  Spacy doesn’t even begin to cover it.  Heh.  Anyhow, I’m pretty sure I walked through 99% of the tour with my mouth hanging open, maybe a little drool dribbling down the side of my chin.  I really didn’t expect a candle factory to be that cool but it really was.  I think our favorite part was the “snow” room where they drizzle a fine coating of melted paraffin onto a cylinder to cool, then scrape it off and roll it around inside of the cylinder to round the little bitty bits of paraffin.  It looked like what you’d imagine Santa’s Workshop to look like at the North Pole.  The only thing that would have made it even cooler is if that part of it was real wax instead of paraffin.

They make not only real beeswax candles there but also many paraffin candles.  They make stick candles, votives, giant pillars for the Catholic Church, decorative candles is all sorts of shapes and colors.  If you ever get the chance to tour their candle factory, do it.

Unfortunately, they didn’t let us take pictures on any of the tours or you can bet I’d have had one of the snow room for ya!  Instead, we made it through the gift shop (with a few candles that happened to jump in our bags) and took a pic outside.



Then we were off to the main Dadant building in Hamilton, Illinois, where we go to buy our beekeeping supplies.  Talk about busy!  We had to wait a bit for a tour — and that was a very good thing because I got some much-needed coffee into me.  Unfortunately, it didn’t help much because the entire tour is just a blurry whirlwind in my brain.  A blur of machines and wood and wax…  Seriously, I don’t remember anything after the coffee and donuts.  How funny.

Next up was the metalworks plant in Dallas City, Illinois.  After more caffeine.  Like, serious caffeine.  By the time we got there, I was once again halfway alert but I’d lost Chris.  Oy.  Way to make a good first impression, Diane.  *thumbs up*  The metal factory was pretty neat but the tour was very short, only about 10 minutes.  Our guide, although a very nice woman, didn’t seem to know much about how things worked but she gave us free reign to oogle over everything.  After we had left, Chris arrived & later texted me that he had the ultimate tour.  See what I get for being ditzy?  Sheesh.  Next time, I’m tying ropes to all of us like a bunch of children so I don’t get lost and miss the good stuff.  :-)

The tours of all three facilities were open to any and all.  Later in the evening and the following day, there were meals and presentations for those who had preregistered.  So off Charlie & I went to Friday evening’s banquet back in Hamilton…

We saw several folks from our bee club there and got to sit next to Russ, Leann, and Janet & Bob, all from our local club.  I would come to really appreciate this particular seating choice as the weekend wore on.  Another beekeeper, Roland, and his son plopped down next to us, having met Janet & Bob earlier in the day.  Now, let me tell you, if you ever want to learn a giant, heaping buttload of information as quickly as your brain can soak it in — sit between Russ and Roland!  Holy information overload.  Geez.  I think I learned more from the discussion at the table over the weekend than I have thus far, to date, from all previous sources.  And there was lasagna.  Lasagna always makes me feel smarter.

The banquet was followed by (or was it preceded by?) a speech from James Tew.  He is an amazing speaker, should you ever get the chance to hear him.  There was no real meat to Friday evening’s speech, being a lighthearted, fun one just to welcome us and get everyone ready for the meat of Saturday’s presentations.  That’s a good thing, though, because the caffeine was starting to wear off by then and I was getting stupidly slap happy.

I’ll go ahead and post this portion and start writing up Saturday’s presentation later tonight and tomorrow.  I hope to have it all up by Tuesday evening when MVBA meets.  *crossing fingers*

An Ugly Start to March

Everything is brown and tan and mucky and muddy.  There’s no grass left in the backyard.  There are piles of gray, gravelly snow scattered here and there.  There are previously-lost tools and toys popping up in random spots in the yard as the snow melts away.  Stacks upon stacks of scavenged scrap treasure line the driveway, awaiting the soggy ground to firm enough to transport them to more socially acceptable storage.

It’s been an ugly start to March.  Blech.

Today, I managed to dump every last drop of the morning’s milking.  Argh.  I had just dropped off milk for customers the night before but, luckily, I had enough reserved in the fridge to cover Downey’s breakfast.  Let’s just pretend I’m really, really smart and had that whole reserve-in-case-of-accident thing planned out, shall we?

Then I dug the kimchi out of the back of the fridge.  It’s been fermenting for months!  It spent several weeks at room temp and then another several weeks in the fridge.  I was afraid.  I’d tried “kimchi” before and never liked it… but I don’t think it was real kimchi, know what I mean.  Just like most “foods” today aren’t real, aren’t prepared in the traditional ways.  They’re fake.  Now I like some fake foods as well as the next person but not fake kimchi.  Ew.  Anyway, I gingerly tried a bite of my real kimchi.  WOOOWWWWW!!!!!!!!!!  Holy crap, I am a convert!!  I need to start more immediately!  I just checked and I had started the kimchi in November.  This is definitely not an instant gratification thing.  I’d better not run out because I’m addicted after just one bite.

Next?  I smelled spring in the air this afternoon!!  Yes!!  So it seems March is going to at least have some good points to balance out the ugly.  :-)

In other news, I’ve farmed out most of my seed starting this year.  I’ve raised my own seedlings for so long now, it’s pretty strange but I know it’ll end well.  I was lucky enough to be stationed next to the coolest veggie farmers ever at the market last year.  You guys think I plant a lot?  Ha.  You ain’t seen nothing until you’ve seen Brad & Jessica!  Once I realized that I didn’t have time or space (safe from all of the animals) to raise seedlings this y ear, I begged Brad & Jessica to start some for me.  And they said yes!  The best part?  I know they’ll be great, healthy seedlings and I could just tell them to plant whatever cultivars because they have very similar tastes to me.  How lucky am I?!

So that takes care of my tomato and sweet pepper seedlings for this crazy busy year.  Whew.  We still have chiles in the freezer from last year so I’ll just pick up a few random jalapeno plants at the farm store if I think I need to plant a few more.  Everything else can either be direct seeded or they’re quick starts, like cole crops and that sort of thing that I can definitely fit into my time and protect from the critter hordes for the short term.

Now if we could just get everything else done…  More fencing up, animal shelters to build, winter’s piles of stuff moved to their permanent homes, babies born, hooves trimmed, hives readied for new bees, and on and on and on.  And new grass seeded in the backyard.  *eyeroll*


Michael Bush as BeeSpeakSTL, part 4

Part 1 here.  Part 2 here.  Part 3 here.

Finally!  The last chunk of my notes from the Michael Bush BeeSpeakSTL event.  The first bit covers the tail end of Michael Bush’s presentation, covering swarm prevention while the last bit covers what the “swarm panel” discussed.

Swarm Prevention

Swarming is instinctual.  It perpetuates the species.  The individual bee is unimportant — the colony is the organism.

Difference between Swarm and Supersedure Cells

Swarm cells:  Lots of queen cells, a dense hive, “that” time of the year, tend to be around the edges of the frames.

Supersedure cells:  Few queen cells, not a dense hive, tend to be around the middle of the frames.

Causes of Swarming

Overcrowding — if there’s no room for nectar, add supers.

Honey or Pollen clogging the brood nest — remove combs of honey/pollen and add empty frames for brood.

No place to cluster — put in slatted racks, follower boards, and/or supers.

Not enough ventilation — switch to screen bottom board and top entrances.

Reproductive Swarms

These are natural and the purpose of a successful hive.  Preparations for reproductive swarms are started in the winter with the intent to set in the spring.  The bees will put away excess stores and work to increase their population in late winter in order to swarm before the main flow.  They will backfill the broodnest with nectar once the population peaks.

One frame of honey + one frame of pollen + one frame of water + one frame of brood — Starting in spring because they’re quickly burning through their resources for reproduction.  <—  Wow.  My notes sucked here.  I have no clue what this point was.  I’m putting it in anyway so it’ll annoy the snot out of me.  Maybe I’ll remember to ask Russ if he caught this bit.

When the bees backfill the brood nest:

  • There is no place for the queen to lay.
  • The queen doesn’t eat as much
  • The queen slims down until she’s skinny/light enough to fly.
  • Unemployed nurse bees warble.
  • Queen cells are built, staggered.
  • After the queen cells are capped, swarming begins.
  • The old queen and unemployed nurse bees meet on a nearby branch.
  • Scout bees find a new home.

How to Stop a Swarm

Once it’s not too early/cold, open the brood nest and pyramid up.  Put in some empty frames, giving those unemployed nurse bees a job drawing comb.  Then the queen will begin laying eggs again and that, in turn, will give the nurse bees more jobs of raising brood, etc.

Once the bees are committed to swarming, different measures are in order.  Instead, do a split for each frame with queen cells.  Put a queen frame in each nuc with a frame of honey.

You can build nucs in any size you need.  2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, etc.  Build what the bees need (hopefully, all in mediums for reasons covered earlier!) so they have less area to defend.  As they expand their numbers, you can move them up a size or two.  This makes it easy to build up nucs for overwintering.

Swarm Panel

This was a “panel” of Michael Bush and two other fellas, during which they each gave their own take  on swarms.  Michael Bush’s ideas are presented above and on his website so I’ll not repeat those.  (That and my note taking here completely dropped off.  I’m going from memory.  LOL)

The first fella, whose name I forgot, had a really interesting swarm box.  (Sorry, panel guy, for forgetting your name if you ever read this!)  I talked about it on the first installment.  The only thing to add to that is that he uses lemongrass essential oil.  Michael Bush, who earlier in the presentation, seemed to be against using even essential oils in the hive, seemed to support it for the lure.  It’s the “same” as the swarm pheromone and briefly exposing the bees to it as a lure, to make them feel your box is a good home, would be acceptable.  At least that’s what I got out of it.  Very good to know.

The other fella was Arvin Pierce.  I also talked a bit about him in the first installment — he’s a fella who does a lot of cut outs.  He has a great website with amazing pics here:  ACBees Apiaries  Seriously, you need to spend some time on his website.  Good stuff there.

Okay, peeps, that’s all I got.  I hope to attend all of the BeeSpeakSTL presentations and will attempt to keep up with sharing my notes.  :-)

Part 1 here.  Part 2 here.  Part 3 here.

Michael Bush at BeeSpeakSTL, part 3

Part 1 here.  Part 2 here.  Part 4 here.

My favorite part of the presentation!  If nothing else, I am lazy, lazy, lazy!  I’m forever tweaking things to make for the least amount of work.  By the time we’re old & feeble (some of us are getting there more quickly than others!), I want this place to be a lean, mean, food-producing machine.

Lazy Beekeeping

“Everything works if you let it.”  <– I love this quote!  I didn’t jot down who said it but it’s probably in the “Lazy Beekeeping” presentation on MB’s website.

Michael Bush spends the same amount of time working 200 hives these days and he used to on 4 – 8 hives.  Below are some of the changes he’s made.

Top Entrances

Skunks were the reason Michael Bush tried top entrances in the beginning but he soon found many other reasons to switch over.  No more cutting grass around the hives to keep bottom entrances clear.  No more shoveling snow for the same reason.  No need to use mouse guards as the mice don’t bother top entrances.  Better ventilation.  They’re easier and cheaper to make.  It’s safer in the winter when dead bees can clog up bottom entrances.  You can have your hive lower to the ground which we all know means it’s much easier to work the hives..  Less condensation within the hive.

To make his top entrances, Michael Bush merely used a normal, unmodified medium box with a flat top.  Onto the bottom of that flat top, he glues & staples shims onto each side.  The fat ends leave an opening along the front where bees can enter & exit.  Since the shims are angled, the back end gradually drops until the top is flush against the box along the backside.  Let me see if I can find a pic on his site to help you figure this out…  Here’s what the front looks like.  Here’s a good view of the side.  Here you can see the shims attached to the sides of the top cover.  I hope that helps more than my explanation!

We started in with top entrances for our hives last year but, as usual, I completely overthought it.  Doh.  I’m so glad I got to see his much simpler way and we’ll be doing that from now on.   Steve’s honey-do list just got shorter.  :-D  

If you go to top entrances, just remember that you still need a small exit at the bottom for the drones to escape if you use an excluder.  We also left a little bottom exit for the bees to be able to clean house easier (hauling out dead bees, garbage, etc.)

Uniform Frame Size

“Friends don’t let friends life deeps.”  <— Another great quote I forgot to jot the owner of!

When all of your boxes and frames are the same depth, it’s easy to swap out parts from/to anywhere.  Michael Bush has switched to all mediums, no deeps or shallows at all.  You can move a frame of brood up or down a box for bait to get bees to move.  You can feed a frame of honey at any level when needed.  When brood boxes get congested, you can take out a frame and move it up, down, or do a split.  If you find brood in a honey super, you can move it down to the brood box where it should be.  You can swap anything anywhere, based on your need at the time.

It also means — and this is not as superficial as it sounds — that the boxes are lighter, saving your back.  Deeps are heavy suckers.  Mediums are much more manageable.  If you want to go even lighter, you can switch out to some 8-frame boxes.  It’s easy to modify 10-frames boxes to 8-frames yourself but all bee supply houses have them, even if they don’t list them in their catalogs. To modify, simply cut down a 10-frame box to 13 3/4″.   You can mix up the 10-frame boxes with 8-frame boxes with a little piece of board laid to cover the gap and the bees will quickly propolise it to seal.

Foundationless Frames

This was touched on earlier in the “Natural Comb” section so I’ll not over that again.  to very briefly sum it up, it’s a time saver and helps the health of the bees due to contaminated wax used on foundations and allows them to choose natural cell sizes based on their needs at the time.  I did just remember one thing that didn’t make it into my notes:

Foundationless frames means he doesn’t have to go crazy with storing his empty frames away from pests until they’re needed again.  Scrape them down and just leave them in the boxes until needed again.  No worries about wax moths there.  (Obviously you wouldn’t leave these empty boxes & frames on active hives as that would give them too much territory to defend.)

No Artificial Feed and No Chemicals

No more buying and mixing up treatments.  No more getting treatments into the hives and removing them when finished (for those that need removing).  No more buying sugar and making syrup.  No more buying corn syrup.  No more trudging back and forth to the hives for feed.  Just leave enough honey on the hive for them to eat and you don’t even have to bother harvesting it, storing it, and getting it back out to them in feeders.  (Although, having a few honey frames as back up is a good idea, I don’t remember how he handles storing back ups.)  Bonus?  The bees are healthier for having real honey instead of feed substitutes and that cycles back into less work for you treating diseased hives.


When all of your equipment is the same depth, it’s stupidly simple to make splits.  Deal the frames like cards:  a frame of honey into Nuc #1, a frame of honey into Nuc #2.  A frame of brood into Nuc #1, a frame of brood into Nuc #2.  And so on until you have things dealt evenly and your splits made.  Whichever hives didn’t end up with a queen will raise new ones.  Easy peasy.

Winter Prep and Chores in General

Since you have everything now sized compatibly, you can go through box by box.  One hive needs a boost?  Snag a frame from a strong hive and toss it in the weak one.  Consolidating for winter?  Swap as needed until your hives are as compact & stocked as you need, and take the rest to storage for next year.


He touched lightly on the usefulness of carts in toting equipment around.  He has used carts from Brushy Mountain, Mann lake, and Walter Kelley.  The cart info is on his website.  (For whatever reason, I didn’t take notes on this part since it’s not yet important to me.  Or it might have been because my hand was cramping from taking too many notes.  LOL)

Stop Doing Unnecessary Things

Leave burr comb between the boxes.  It makes a handy ladder for the queen and it’s a great mite monitor.  Unless it’s causing crooked comb, just leave it.

Leave the propolis.  Some people go crazy about scraping the hives, keeping it “clean”.  The bees put the propolis there for good reasons so, unless you need to remove it to work the hives, just leave it.

Stop cutting out swarm cells (unless you are grafting them for queen rearing).  If the hive is wanting to swarm, do a split or put a frame with cells in a nuc with a frame of honey.  <–Which is a way of doing a split so I’m not sure if I didn’t hear him correctly or if my note taking just sucked.  I’m betting on the latter.  ;-)   If the queen cells are already capped, the hive has probably already swarmed or very, very close to it and you won’t stop it.  If there are a bunch of swarm cells, that’s an indicator of a strong hive.  Remember, a hive’s instinct is to reproduce and that is what swarming is.  So, swarming = good, except it’s not.  Heh.  Anyway, catch it before the queen cells are capped and do a split.

Stop fighting the bees.  Give them the resources they are likely to need (or remove excess, such as too much space to defend) and let them solve the problem.  Remember, “First do no harm.”

Don’t wrap the hives in the winter, nor provide artificial heat.  Cold has no harmful effects on healthy bees.  Indeed, it has been shown to be beneficial.

Don’t bother painting equipment.  It may or may not last as long, depending upon your climate.  Even if it doesn’t last quite as long, was it worth the expense of paint & brushes and your time?  Many have noted that painted hives tend to mold while unpainted do not.  As an aside, Michael Bush has been dipping his in a 2:1 wax:sumac resin heated mixture.  I didn’t catch whether or not it improved the lifespan of the boxes but I got the idea that he just wanted to experiment a bit.  I’m sure the results of that are on his website somewhere. 

Stop switching hive bodies.  It just makes more work for the beekeeper and the bees then have to rearrange the brood nest.  (If the bottom is completely empty, go ahead if it floats your boat but, otherwise, it disrupts more than it helps.  He did mention that it will keep them busy with the aforementioned rearranging so that, should they be in the initial stage of thinking about swarming, it’ll distract them for a bit.  And that whole “bees only work/build up”?  Let to their own devices, bees will build in either direction.

Don’t look for the queen.  It’s a good skill to have to feel free to do it but don’t feel that it’s necessary to do.  Just look for eggs and brood.  You can still do a split and not worry about where the queen is.  The only reason (other than your own education) to look for the queen is if you have a hot hive and need to pinch her.

During those rare times when you do need to artificially feed your hive, do it with dry sugar.  (Faced between letting a hive die because you have no honey banked for them and feeding them sugar, I think the choice is pretty clear to all of us.)  It greatly simplifies the whole thing.  Just put an empty box on top of the hive, toss down some newspaper, and dump dry sugar on top of that.  Spray some water on it to make it clump so it doesn’t all run out the bottom.  Voila.  The bees will eat it.

Enough for today.  Next up:  Swarms & Prevention.

Part 1 here.  Part 2 here.  Part 4 here.

Michael Bush at BeeSpeakSTL, part 2

Part 1 here.  Part 3 here.  Part 4 here.

4 Simple Steps to Healthier Bees, continued

Natural Food

It’s common practice for beekeepers to supply the bees with pollen substitutes (“pollen patties”) now & then.  Studies are showing that bees who get pollen substitutes live short l