Friday, December 12, 2008

Lesson 45: Hygienic Honey Bees Are A Must

Today, I want to share with you about the importance of keeping hygienic honey bees. I will share why it is essential to only use queens that are hygienic and for those of you raising queens, I will give you step by step instructions on how to test your hives for strong hygienic behavior using the Liquid Nitrogen testing method. Before we jump into this informative lesson today, I want to share a few other things first.
Sheri and I have been having so much fun producing Studio Bee Live broadcasts, a daily audio podcast all about honeybees. Be sure and listen to our program. It is found on this blogspot lesson to the upper right or you can log in to:


Somewhat new to contemporary beekeeping is the phrase "hygienic bees". Now, typically we think of all honey bees as being hygienic. You know, honey bees rarely defecate in the hive. They fly out to void themselves, so we know that bees are somewhat hygienic. They keep a very clean hive.

However, over the last few years greater emphasis has been placed on hygienic behavior in how the bees monitor sealed brood. When we refer to hygienic honey bees, we mean more than just keeping a clean hive, we mean their are some honey bees that monitor sealed brood and if there is a problem, either disease or pest such as American Foul Brood or mites, they will open the cell up, and remove the larvae.

This is not as new as we might think. A notable work from the past on hygienic bees goes back to the 1930s. O.W. Park, in the early 1930s began this work and actually found that hygienic bees could cut American Foul Brood from 70% down to 10%. So for the last 80+ years, work continued off and on with developing a more hygienic progeny. The most prominent work and name associated with hygienic bees has been the work of Dr. Marla Spivak and her queens knows as the Minnesota Hygienic Queens. Dr. Spivak said that she thinks this hygienic behavior is found in about 10% of honey bees.

I heard Dr. Spivak's assistant speak last year, Gary Reuter, and he encouraged all queen rearers to consider testing for hygienic behavior in our hive selection programs. He showed pictures and gave examples of how easy it is to conduct these test. I will be interviewing Gary for Studio Bee Live next week.

I want to share how to perform the hygienic discovery test on a hive for those of you who are raising your own queens, but before I do, let me share with you how important I believe this really is.

I've traveled to some third world countries where my doctor warned me not to drink the water, eat the food or get a mosquito bite. Some of these countries have very poor hygiene. A lack of sanitation knowledge keeps some people believing that if you cannot see a germ, there is no germ. Thus, bacteria and diseases flourish.

A few times, I've caught the bug while traveling in these countries. As of late, I've tried really hard to be more hygienically aware because I don't like being sick far from home. But we do not have to travel to a third world country to get sick from germs. By not washing our hands, we can catch a cold after shaking hands with someone who is infected. Thus, the more hygienic we are, the healthier we stay. Same is true for honey bees too.

The less dust, mold and germs we have in our homes, the healthier we are and the same is true for bees. This is a MUST! We have to get off the medicine treadmill with our bees. We cannot continue to effectively keep honey bees by dumping medication in the hive. Try living your life the way you treat you bees, and any medical doctor would warn you that it is not a healthy lifestyle.

Producing queens that have a strong hygienic behavior, in my opinion, is the key to reducing mites, American Foul Brood and other issues related to cleanliness of the hive. Imagine having bees who are able to detect AFB or reproductive mites in a sealed brood cell, and then open up that cell and carry the contaminated elements out of the hive.

It is also my opinion that a large cause agent of CCD is the amount of chemicals beekeepers add to their hives that gets absorbed into the comb and becomes unlikeable to the bees or begins to affect the bees in negative ways. This may not be the only or major cause, but to me it has to be one of the components. Thus, by using hygienic queens, we can reduce the medications in the hives and achieve an equal success rate from this hygienic behavior.

As much sense that this makes, there are many queen providers who still make no effort to incorporate this hygienic characteristic into their stock. This testing does add another time consuming step to the equation of an already demanding process.

However, as more state queen rearing projects spread, and as more beekeepers seem interested in raising their own queens, I want to challenge all queen providers to sell only queens from known hygienic hives.

How do we determine this?

Gary Reuter was very helpful in the workshop I attended. He explained in detail how to perform this hygienic test. Anyone raising queens should and can do it. It is pretty simple. The test is performed using Liquid Nitrogen (N2), the cold stuff! I called around and the best place to purchase it is from a near by welding supply company, the ones that sell various welding gas. They will sell you Liquid Nitrogen. I decided to purchase a 5 liter canister made for (N2). The canister is pricey, between $400-$500, but it is the best and safest way. If you are not testing regularly, you could just put the (N2) in a cooler. But you have to be very careful, as it will immediately frost bite your skin. You have to wear proper protection, because an accidental spill or splash could cost you a limb. (N2) is cheap, at about $3-$4 a liter.

We will begin running our tests this spring by using metal cylinders that we make from 28 gauge galvanized metal, left over pieces from the metal we put on our top covers. These cylinders need to be at least 4" tall and 3" in diameter. The 28 gauge metal works best because it is thin enough to press into the sealed brood in the frame. 4" tall is important so that as the (N2) "boils over" as it freezes and kills the brood within the 3" circle, it will not boil over and out onto the rest of the frame.

It is important to pour in 10 ounces of (N2) on the section of brood within the metal cylinder. This is the sufficient amount to kill all brood cells. Be sure and make a note of any unsealed cells so that when you come back to count, you'll have a base number to work with. There are about 160 cells within a 3" diameter. It is recommended to pour in a couple of ounces first and wait for the edges to freeze or for the (N2) to evaporate then pour the remaining 8 ounces in.

So what you want to do with the (N2) is freeze kill a 3" diameter area of sealed brood. Then, you place that frame back into the hive for 48 hours. Be sure and mark the frame so that you can easily find your test frame in 48 hours. When you find it, now observe how much of the 3" area of dead larvae has been removed. If it has all been emptied, then you have a very hygienic hive to breed from. If not, keep testing other hives.

Like I said, pretty simple!!

Sunday, our temperature will rise to 52. I am planning to go into a few of our hives that have a large wind block as the wind will be strong from the South. When I go into these experimental hives, I will be observing the following:1) Amount of sealed brood or egg
2) Location of the cluster/queen
3) Amount of both stored pollen and honey
4) Evidence of excessive condensation in the hiveThree hives I am experimenting with are:
1) A series of 3 nucs with 5 frames, all stacked on top of each other. Each one has a 3" screened hole in the floor, allow one nuc to heat the one above it.

2) A hive that was compressed into a single deep, to observe how well a hive can overwinter in a single deep.

3) Two strong hives that were mere merged into one hive by placing two deeps from one hive on top of two deeps from another hive.Since we've already had several weeks of very cold weather and winds here in Illinois, it will be interesting to see where the bees are at in mid December. I'll keep you posted.We are getting closer to the end of the year, and as of January 1, 2009 we will raise our prices on our wooden ware. So you can save money by ordering your hives yet this year. Please get your hive order in as soon as possible for your 2009 beekeeping needs!Last year, our queens were in such demand, we were not able to fulfill all orders. Though we are vastly increasing our queen production for the spring, we are still looking at selling out. Therefore, we have decided to take orders for queens starting January 5th as well. These are our Illinois reared queens from our survival hives that have never been medicated and have proven to be winter hardy, good honey producers, gentle and hygienic. We hope to have queens ready to sell my the end of April or early May. First come first serve basis so secure your queen/s fast! We are planning on producing around 1,000 of these queens and probably about 500 - 750 will pass our criteria as sellable mated queens. These queens are held in their own nuc to demonstrate their laying ability for 14-21 days before they are sold.

We only ship our queens through express mail, 1-2 day delivery time.

Here's the number to call to order your hives, bees, nucs or queens:

We welcome your questions to Studio Bee Live. Call in an leave your question on our answering machine and we'll play your voice and our answer on an upcoming broadcast. We have a special number just for questions:
Check out our website at: and if you don't see what you need there, call us up and we'll make sure we take care of all your beekeeping needs!

See you next time and remember to BEE-have yourself!
David & Sheri Burns
Long Lane Honey Bee Farms