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Traps and Trays

Ever since we started beekeeping we have been using the West Trap in conjunction with the bottom board.  Over the years we have learned that it is very easy to see what is going on in the hive just by pulling the tray out.  We use the west trap to monitor hive activity when we need more clues as to how a colony is doing.  We clean them our regularly and keep them in all year long.  Most of the time just as a tray with no oil or liquid in them.

For instance, if you see a lot of fine chewed up brown or light brown cappings, you know that brood has hatched.  Remember, when the young bees chew out of their cells, the cappings just fall the floor of the hive. If you have a screened bottom board alone, it is not possible to see what is happening without a tray to catch the evidence.

How about white cappings?  This would mean that the bees are eating stored honey.  Unlike brood, which has a dark capping, honey typically has a white capping on it.  If this is observed, it is usually time to get a closer look.  It could mean robbing or, if outside of the normal nectar flow, that the bees do not have enough to eat and are eating stored resources.  Seeing sugar crystals may indicate this as well, since honey can crystalize and the bees will not be able to eat the crystals.  They simply clean them out of the cells.

If you varroa mites are observed then it may be time to see how infested the colony is.  Treating may also be in order.  How about if a hive beetle is seen hiding down there.  Beatles will be chased down into the trays by the bees and will stay there until they find a way up again.  Remember, the West Trap is actually a beetle trap.  When beetles are seen down there it is definitely time to put the “kill” agent in the trap.

To trap and kill hive beetles we use mineral oil.  It is an agricultural product that can be purchased by the gallon at most farm supply stores.  Some beekeepers use vegetable oil.  Either will work, but we prefer the synthetic oil that will not ferment on its own.  We add a tablespoon or so of cider vinegar as an attractant.  Hive beetles cannot resist the smell and enter the trap willingly only to drown in the oil.

If hive beetles are seen on frames the West Trap may not be enough.  We then turn to beetle blasters or some other trap that sits in between the frames.   These are filled the same way with mineral oil and cider vinegar.  Care must be taken so as not to spill them on the bees or on the frames.

How about during and after a mite treatment?  These trays are very useful when assessing mite drop.  How else would we know if a mite treatment has worked or not?  After the treatment period seeing dead mites on the tray would indicate that the treatment worked.

Since we use the screened bottom board we always have a west trap in the tray slot.  It allows us to see what our bees are doing, monitor and control pests, and help gauge treatment efficacy. Remember, it is not just trash down in that tray. It is vital beekeeping information!!!

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Queen Acceptance, Weather, and Food

This year it has rained at least once every week since spring started.  Most weeks it has been raining twice a week at a minimum.  Now summer is supposed to have taken over and it is still raining way too much. This is not only disconcerting for the beekeeper but it is very disconcerting for the bees.  Worse yet, we are starting to see the problems that this has caused and the errors of our ways.

As most beekeepers do, we purchased packaged bees and new equipment for replacing our dead outs and expanding our operation.  We hived the packages and began feeding sugar syrup and pollen patties.  Once the nectar flow was starting, or scheduled to start, we removed the feed from the hives and added honey supers. The rain kept coming every week.

When we checked on them the bees never seemed truly happy. And we noticed that the new packages queens had a poorer acceptance rate than we are used to seeing.  We gauge this on the number of queen cells produced by colonies started as packages.  Nearly all were building at least one queen cell.  Some had multiples.  This despite the fact they had a queen that was laying eggs and apparently operating normally.  Usually this behavior is only seen in a few new package colonies and usually if they do it at first, the behavior goes away as the season goes on and the nectar flow starts.  We made a few nice nucleus colonies with these cells, but after a while it becomes very disheartening to keep destroying large swarm and supercedure cells.

Then during our inspections, we started seeing problems with mites.  But the problems are much more advanced that we have seen before.  Normally at this time of the year we would only see one or two mites occasionally if at all, especially on a brand new hive, but this time we are seeing many more.  We can actually see mites on some of the bees in the new hives that were packages just a few weeks before.  If you can see the mites on bees, just imagine how many there are on the rest of the bees and how many there are living beneath the cappings.  We removed drone brood to find hordes of mites.  This was very alarming.

To prevent problems down the road we decided to be proactive and we reached for our weapon of choice, mite away quick strips or MAQS. We saw some mites drop, but not as much as we expected.  At this point we were hopeful that the mites in the cells had died.

The treatment seemed to exasperate the problems that we were seeing with queen acceptance and absconding.  Now where there were just a few cells we saw six. Where there were six we saw a dozen. We tried re-queening a few with new queens from our supplier, but the same thing happened all over again.  So we decided to let nature take its course.  Most of our new package hives swarmed because of all the cells that they kept producing. Others completely absconded by the end of the season.

After it was all over we realized that their lack of food caused by the inability to forage, the mite treatments, and our inability to realize that we needed to feed the bees during the time of stress, all contributed to the problems that we were having.  The problem ended in a honey crop failure for us.  Lots of rain did not produce lots of usable nectar for our little bee friends.  Hopefully the goldenrod flow will be good this fall. We will try to get some this year, despite the fact that we have not had good luck chasing this elusive honey before.

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More Equipment

This is a big year for us – we are expanding!!!  This year we will nearly double the number of colonies that we are managing.  This means that we need more equipment.  Boxes and frames and foundation galore!  For us this meant another trip to Dadant to get the supplies.  It sure seems like these trips are becoming more common!

This last trip to Dadant punctuates the need for a proper vehicle that is fit for beekeeping.  Cars and minivans are nice, but they just cannot compare when it comes to transporting beekeeping equipment!  On the return trip from Dadant it became apparent that we had maxed out the abilities of the minivan that we borrowed.  The suspension was bottomed on the frame for most of the way home.

Our normal beekeeping vehicle is an old Buick.  It is on its last leg.  Its back seat is stained with propolis and is sticky with honey from placing boxes on the seats. Its floor covered in Honey Bee Healthy, Pro Health and sugar syrup from transporting feeder buckets. The trunk smells like a bee smoker. It has served us well, but we have definitely outgrown it.

Assembling 200 frames in the living room may be cozy, but it has its downfalls as well. Annoying the neighbors with pounding or nailing, cleaning up glue, and storage all become major issues. After a few years of beekeeping it has become apparent that if one is to stay a beekeeper, it is necessary to have a workshop to do this type of work in.

For the time being, our friend John has a workshop that we can use to build some of our equipment and even make some custom pieces like our candy boards and our custom inner covers. He has a great table saw that will stop the blade if you touch it with a finger.  It is nice to know that the saw will lessen the chance of losing a valuable finger!  His chop saw and air compressor come in handy too.  We know what we will need when we want to equip our own shop.

So in the future, we will need at least one truck and a workshop to build and paint equipment in.  Not to mention a place where we can extract all that sweet yummy honey!

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Winter Preperation

Winter in Illinois is becoming more and more unpredictable.  After experiencing losing all of our bees due to the harsh winter in years past, we are taking more preventative steps now.

Treating for mites is becoming more and more important.  Even though we are using small cell foundation, our bees still seem to harbor a higher than average number of mites.  Guidance on the number of mites that is acceptable on a test sample seems to always be in flux depending on the literature read or the person giving the advice.  But one trend is for certain, the acceptable number seems to be going down.

Our fall treatment showed mite drop and the bees seemed to be ok after the treatment.  On a few of our colonies we think that either the mite treatment was too strong or the mites damaged the hives too much before we treated because a few were lost before the slow was flying.  Luckily the rest seem to be in good shape right now.

We purchased a roll of winter wrap that can be cut into any size depending on the equipment that we are using.  This is handy as it will allow us to “wrap up” a stack of ten frame equipment, or a single nucleus colony, or a group of nucleus colonies.  We will simply cut what we need.  It is also great that the manufacturer claims the product to be reusable for many years.

The outer layer is a thick black plastic that absorbs heat and acts as a wind break.  The inner layers are foam insulation that will keep the heat in.  When it gets cold and windy, this is what our hives need!

We are also placing a notched candy board with an upper entrance on the hive.  This will allow humidity, which rises with warm air, to escape out of the hive.  Some of the humidity will be absorbed by the candy board and this will make the sugar tasty and readily available for the bees to eat.   Our winter wrap covers the sides and up over the top of the candy board.  Hopefully this will keep the girls warm and well fed in the winter!

The candy board recipe that we use is the classic one from the Hive and the Honeybee.  It is as follows:

15 pounds of white granulated sugar
3 pounds (or one quart) of light corn syrup
1 quart of water
1/2 teaspoon of cream of tartar

We combine all the ingredients into a large pot and stir it with a paint stir on the end of a drill.  Once completely combined, heat until it reaches at least 242 F stirring occasionally so it does not burn on the bottom.  The heat source should be a strong one.  Most kitchen stoves will not produce enough heat to make candy boards in a timely manner.  We usually heat until 244 – 246 F but not over 248 F.  Let it cool until it is below 200 and then stir it up again and pour it into the candy board container.

We place our candy boards on the hives and wrap them just before Thanksgiving.  Some beekeepers in our area do it just after Thanksgiving or in mid-December.  Since bees need to eat and it can get cold and snow in December, we do it early!

About mid winter, we place pollen patties to help with buildup.  The bees need to stay strong and start rearing new bees for the new year.  Then the cycle will continue.  I wonder how many mites there are?  I wonder how healthy the bees will be?  I wonder how much honey the bees will produce?

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Varroa Mites VS MAQS

Varroa mites are becoming more bothersome.  This year we treated in the spring and in the fall after we took our honey off.

Sticky boars have been our monitoring tool of choice.  When we used a sticky board to test we had results from 10 to 50+ mites dropped in a twenty four hour period.  This method of sampling is nice, neat and easy.  But I do see difficulties with it.  It only measure the number of mites being dropped. It does not measure those on the bees or, better yet, living in the cells.  It is the ones in the cells we need to worry about!  It does not seem like this sampling method takes into account any hygienic behavior either.  If the bees groom off mites as they come into the hive then a lot will drop, and I would assume that I have a ton of mites in the hive.  Instead, in this case, it would indicate the bees doing the hygienic job that we desire.  Maybe a better monitoring method is available.

We have treated in the spring and the fall with Formic Acid strips.  They actually look and feel more like a patty, but they are referred to as strips.  The product is called MAQS by NOD Apiary.  This will be the second year we have used this product.
MAQS may prove to be quite valuable because they claim it is not very hard on the bees and that it can kill mites in the capped brood cells as well as on the bees.   The strips smell harsh and the bees quickly move away from it when you get it near them, so I do not know how well it will work, especially in high concentrations in the long run.  Monitoring and planning hive ventilation and maximum daily temperatures during the treatment period are key when using this product.  So treating all the time with it may be difficult, even though treatment is allowed with the honey supers on.

Our spring treatment showed some mite drop, but the fall drop was enormous.  Hopefully it will save some of our colonies from dying from the parasitic mite.

 

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Disaster Hits the Almond Orchards This Year

Honeybee_Almond_BloomAlmond pollination in California requires the use many colonies or hives of bees.  This year, more than 1.6 million bee colonies were used to pollinate the California Almond crop. Nearly all of these colonies were brought in from other states by an army of 1,300 commercial beekeepers.

This staggering number of honeybee colonies accounts for approximately ninety percent of all of the honeybees in the United States.   After pollinating almonds, these bees are often used to pollinate other crops, such as apples, cranberries, cherries and watermelons. Any losses seen during or right after almond pollinating season cascades into the pollination of other crops and into the packaged bee industry, which is what allows new beekeepers to start colonies and existing beekeepers to replace winter losses.

At an impromptu meeting on March 24 in Los Banos, California between beekeepers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 75 beekeepers stated that three-quarters of their hives showed very significant damage.  More beekeepers weighed in later.  It was found that after waiting a few more weeks approximately 60% of all colonies that pollinated almonds showed damage. That is nearly a million honeybee colonies.

The reason why the pesticide losses do not happen right away is because of bee biology and the way bees work to produce their young in the hive.  Bees gather pollen an nectar and store it for later use.  This includes the raising on new bees.  Since bees only live about 28 days, new bees are being raised all the time in a healthy colony.  When nectar and pollen is contaminated it will continue to kill bees even after the bee that brought it to the hive is long gone.  This is why such a high percentage of colonies say dying brood, or young bees still in the cells, on such a large scale.  Many of the pesticides in use are labeled as “safe for use on adult bees.”  This means that these pesticides were only tested on bees that were flying around but the testing never included any investigation into brood rearing or other long term exposure issues.

Beekeepers in California are blaming their losses on pesticides used on the Almond trees.  Almond growers have no restrictions on when and how they can apply pesticides to their trees and that is a large part of the problem, but an even bigger part are that the residue from these pesticides kill bees and kill bee brood, no matter when it is applied.

The EPA and the USDA have claimed for years that pesticides are not hurting honeybees and other pollinators.  This event shows absolute proof on a large scale that pesticides used on Almond trees are dangerous to honeybees.  These are the same chemicals that are used on the vast majority of food crops in the United States. Almond growers typically apply one or a mix of pesticides – which can include clothianidin, dinotefuran, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam. This year tank mixing from two new products, tolfenpyrad and cyantraniliprole were used.

The EPA and tBlooming almond trees being sprayed.he USDA has failed to keep pesticides from killing pollinators.  Instead pesticide related bee deaths have increased exponentially.  Because of this and the fact that the beekeeping industry is deemed as insignificant, beekeepers are not protected by any laws or given payment for damages caused by pesticide exposure. This is despite the fact that pollination services provided by honeybees are responsible for 30 billion dollars worth of food annually.

Not only has the EPA and USDA done nothing to protect pollinators, but they have done nothing to assure consumers that any of the above mentioned pesticides are truly safe to be used on food crops.  All beef and dairy cows are exposed to them on a daily basis through the corn silage they eat.  Nearly all commercially raised vegetables are sprayed with them.  Even the plants you purchase at home and garden centers in the spring have been treated with them.  After the sprayers have left the fields and treated seeds have sprouted and been harvested as a food, everybody forgets about the pesticides that may be present.  Nobody knows exactly how much of these systemic pesticides make it into the food chain as corn products, soybeans products, dairy products, beef, and fruits and vegetables. To date, no official testing has been done on this yet.

If the losses in the beekeeping industry do not stop, the beekeeping industry cannot continue to survive.  New regulations, stiff penalties and fines for those responsible for colony death, and the banning of insecticides, fungicides and insect growth inhibitors are the only way to save the industry before it dies with the bees.

To read more about this issue, please read the press release from the Pollinator Stewardship Council or visit this topics thread on their website.

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Bees Make Food Production Possible

Many people think of bees simply as a summertime nuisance. But these small and hard-working insects actually make it possible for many of our favorite foods to reach your table. From apples to almonds to the pumpkin in our pumpkin pies, we have bees to thank.  Depending on an individual’s diet, between one and two thirds of the crops humans use for food production depend on pollination by insects such as bees in some way.  Also, the vast majority of wild plant species also require pollination to survive.

This valuable service that Mother Nature has provided at no cost for thousands of years, however, is increasingly failing. As an example, after 3000 years of sustainable agriculture, farmers in the Chinese province Sichuan have to pollinate apple flowers themselves by using pollination sticks because of the lack of honey bees to pollinate their crops.  These pollination sticks are commonly brushes made of chicken feathers and cigarette filters. This is one small example of a pollination problem occurring world-wide.

Closer to home, the California almond crop is critically at risk each year due to the lack of pollinators that are necessary to pollinate the thousands of blossoms that are on each tree.  To explain how large the problem is, the 2013 almond crop is approximately 800,000 acres, according to Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology.  The recommended number of hives or colonies to pollinate the almond crop is two per acre, which means that 1.6 million colonies are needed this year alone.  California only has about 500,000 colonies, so over a million need to be brought in from other parts of the United States.

Because of heavy honey bee colony losses sustained across the nation over the last few years, beekeepers that provide pollination services are not going to have enough colonies to pollinate the almond crop to full capacity this year.   And the almond crop is only one that is at risk. Many fruit and vegetable crops are at risk because of the lack of bees and other pollinator insects.

Bees are the most efficient pollinator.  It is true that birds, bats, beetles, various types of ants and flies, as well as butterflies can be classified as pollinators. The problem with these pollinators is that they are not designed for the job and do not do it as efficiently as the honey bee.  Bees are especially efficient at pollination because their goal in life is to collect pollen and nectar exclusively, as these become their food.  To accomplish this, bees visit many flowers of the same species during a single trip and have hairy bodies that easily pick up pollen grains.

How Much do Honey Bees Provide to Food Production?

In the United States, Honey Bees are required to ensure pollination and help guarantee the production of more than $15 billion crops each year.  If you enjoy eating Watermelon, Cantaloupe, Squash, Almonds, Apples, Cherries, Various citrus fruits, and various berry crops such as strawberries and blueberries, you have been enjoying the labor of honeybees.  Without bees to pollinate these crops, the blooms would not mature into fruit.  Bees provide crops such alfalfa, carrots, canola, and various clovers the ability to ensure that seeds are created to grow the next generation of plants.  Remember without the seeds it would be impossible to plant alfalfa or clover to feed to cattle, or grow carrots, peppers, cabbages, and various other vegetables in the garden.

Internationally, global food production worth over 200 billion dollars each year relies on the pollination services of honey bees and to a lesser extent other insects.  This means that as the honey bee and other pollinator’s populations decline, there will be a direct impact on the stability of food production and consumer prices.  It will also mean serious consequences for human health and the food supply. This means that an awful lot rests on the small honey bee.

Here is a partial list of crop plants pollinated by bees.  These are some plants used for food or food production:  Okra, Kiwifruit, Onion, Cashew, Celery, Strawberry, Starfruit, Beet, Mustard, Rapeseed (canola oil), Broccoli, Cauliflower, Cabbage, Brussels sprouts, Turnip, Chili/Red/Bell/Green pepper, Papaya, Safflower, Caraway, Chestnut, Watermelon, Tangerine, Coconut, Coffee, Coriander, Cantaloupe, Cucumber, Squash, Pumpkin, Gourd, Marrow, Zucchini, Lemon, Lime, Carrot, Strawberry, Soybean, Cotton, Sunflower, Flax, Apple, Mango, Alfalfa, Passion fruit, Avocado, Lima bean, Kidney bean, Haricot bean, Adzuki bean, Mung bean, String bean, Green bean, Allspice, Apricot, Sweet Cherry, Sour cherry, Plum, Greengage, Mirabelle, Sloe, Almond, Peach, Nectarine, Guava, Pomegranate, Pear, Black currant, Red currant, Boysenberry, Raspberry, Blackberry, Elderberry, Sesame, Eggplant, Various clover varieties, Blueberry, Cranberry, Vanilla, Vetch, peas, Tomato, Grapes

If it were not for honey bees, food production would be very difficult and many of our favorite foods would not exist.  Remember to support your local beekeeper. They help to keep our food supply safe.

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Honey Tariffs and Anti-Dumping Regulations

Nearly all consumer and most beekeepers are unaware that since 2001, American Honey producers have operated within a semi protected production zone within the borders of the United States.  This is not necessarily a bad thing.  In fact it is a very good thing to protect American beekeepers and the honey consuming American public.

The honey tariffs and anti-dumping regulations against Chinese honey help to protect American beekeepers, the domestic honey industry, and the billions of dollars in agricultural crop output that relies on pollination services of American Beekeepers. Also, equally as important, is the need to protect consumers from substantial risk due to illicit, often adulterated, food products entering uninspected and unsuspected into the food supply from China. In the past, Chinese honey has been found to contain antibiotics, unapproved beehive treatments chemicals, and even heavy metals. Honey Tariffs adn anti-dumping regulations were not enough for the Eastern European Union.  As a result of the poor quality and adulterated nature of Chinese honey, the European Union has outlawed it completely and unconditionally.

The United States Commerce Department began investigating honey being imported from China as early as 1995.  After the amount of honey doubled from 1998 to 2000 the commerce department issued a report detailing the problem with Chinese honey-dumping on the wholesale and retail markets.   After reviewing the Commerce Department’s report and recommendations, the International Trade Commission made the decision to start protective tariffs on Chinese honey imports that year and they went into affect December 10, 2001.  These honey tariffs and anti-dumping regulations impose a fee of between 25 percent to about 184 percent on imported honey from China.

Ever since the inception of the honey tariffs and anti-dumping regulations, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce has repeatedly urged that the honey tariffs and anti-dumping regulations be lifted on the grounds that they are protectionist.  Of course, they failed to address honey product quality or contamination concerns. They are only interested in the removal of the honey tariffs and anti-dumping regulations so their inferior honey can flood the market.

These tariffs are revised in a “Sunset Review” every five years.  The second such review just happened on November 19, 2012.  At the review the International Trade Commission was able presented information on whether the honey tariffs and anti dumping regulations should or should not continue.

In reports submitted to the International Trade Commission during the most recent review, The American Honey Producers Association and the Sioux Honey Association detailed how the revocation of honey tariffs and anti-dumping regulations against Chinese honey would likely lead to “continuation or recurrence of material injury within a reasonably foreseeable time” for the domestic honey industry.  Specifically, the trade associations pointed out how honey sold below market value would severely harm the industry.

After this and other testimony, the Commission decided that “removing the tariffs would likely hurt the domestic industry.” The International Trade Commissions voted 5-0 to maintain the protective measures on Chinese honey.  This effectively means that the honey tariffs and anti-dumping regulations will be in place for at least another five years.  The ITC will then publish its determination and views to the Dept. of Commerce on Nov. 29, 2012.

 

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Introducing Two Beekeepers

Welcome to the Two Beekeepers Apiary

The Two Beekeepers is an Apiary started and run by Lori Otey and Martin Szudarski. The goal of Two Beekeepers is to raise bees in the most natural way possible, produce honey and other related products such as candles and soaps, and eventually pass on knowledge to others.  Lori and Martin have deeply rooted interests in agriculture production, even though they live in the Chicago suburb of Wheaton, Illinois.  Martin grew up in a rural community and Lori has always been interested in growing plants and keeping animals.

Beekeeping will allow Martin and Lori to get involved in an agriculture related activity.  The first goal of the Apiary is to produce natural raw honey. A second goal is to provide healthy local pollinators in DuPage County.  The third goal of the apiary is to eventually begin working with the wax, which is a valuable bi-product of beekeeping.  Not only can the wax that is produced by bees be used in new hives, it can also be made into candles and even soaps. These items will be sold on the Two Beekeepers website in the future.

Lori and Martin have been working hard toward getting the apiary set up.  A few locations have been found that can be used to keep hives at.  The next stage for the Two Beekeepers Apiary is to get all the supplies that they need to keep bees at these locations.  Keep checking back to learn how you can help build our apiary, purchase some local honey, or honeybee related products.  Or just stop by to view photos and read some blogs.

Thank you for your interest and support

Lori and Marty

The Two Beekeepers