Friday, February 24, 2012


In today’s lesson David will share why state bee inspection programs are so important and give you several ways you can best utilize this service. And David will also explain why this warmer winter posses a serious threat to bees surviving and what you can do to save the bees!

LESSON 115: State Bee Inspectors And You Must Feed Your Bees.
Throughout my years of keeping bees I’ve always benefited from bee inspectors. I first started keeping bees when I lived in Ohio. A year before I started beekeeping we lived in a house that had someone else’s bee hives out back. I remember watching from the window the bee inspector taking the hive apart and looking at frames. He left a sheet of paper with me stating that the bees were healthy.
Because we sell nucs, our bees have to be inspected every year. A nuc is a very small hive, maybe four or five frames with a queen. In order for customers to purchase nucs, they must be inspected, approved and also have a moving permit for each nuc. This has been the best of experience. Each year, the inspector spends the big part of a day searching for any problems, filling out health certificates and moving permits. It is a valuable service. We know our inspector very well and consider him a friend. Though some states do not have any inspectors, our state has 8. Our neighboring state of Indiana has only 1.
I’ve heard some say they feel threatened by “big government” messing with their bees. But this is not the case at all. Our honey bees have much more to deal with today and state inspectors are here to help. They are a tool that beekeepers should embrace and take full advantage of their services.
If you see something that concerns you or you just need help knowing if your queen is doing okay, call your inspector. Don’t sit around and wonder if you have a disease or a pest, call your inspector.
Because of our inspection program we can rest more comfortably knowing that our inspectors are merely trying to prevent the spread of harmful pests and diseases.
So we strongly urge all beekeepers to register hives with either your Department of Ag or Division of natural Resources.
Bees cluster in the hive when the temperature drops below 50 degrees F.  A mild winter can cause the hive to get an early start raising new brood. This new brood requires a significant amount of pollen and nectar. Now that most hives are raising significant amounts of new brood, the demand for pollen and nectar is strong. In northern states we are several weeks away from any type of natural resources for our bees. And if we have more than a few days of extremely cold weather, the bees will be forced to cluster without food over the brood to keep it warm, and they may starve out.
There are several ways to feed bees during late winter and early spring. For Northern states the weather will change back and forth so an entrance feeder is not recommended. In a cold snap, bees will cluster and not be able to reach the entrance feeder. Here are feeding methods we recommend:
1) Candy Boards
Our first choice is the use of candy boards. We sell a candy board we call Winter-Bee-Kind which has an upper vent/entrance, insulation and 5 lbs of sugar with pollen mixed in as well. Placed on the top of the hive, it is always above the cluster for easy access. The upper vent/entrance allows bees to stay close to the food source but still be about to exit the hive when needed without having to travel all the way down to the lower entrance.
2) Top Feeders
Top feeders are large reservoirs placed over the top of the hive and usually hold between 1-3 gallons of liquid fed such as 1:1 sugar water. As long as the temperature remains warm these are effective. However, if there is a sudden drop in temperature the bees will be stranded feeding and fail to re-cluster and freeze. So be sure you are out of the woods for cold snaps. Some make their own top feeders by placing pails or entrance feeders on top of the hive and then place an empty deep hive body around it with a lid. Again, make sure the temperature does not rapidly fall off or this added space above the hive can deplete their pocket of warmth.
3) Frame Feeders
Frame feeders are plastic reservoirs shaped like a frame and slip in place of a frame in the brood nest area. Their obvious disadvantage is that the temperature has to be above 60 degrees F in order to manipulate frames to place it in the hive. Be sure to include chicken wire, card board or some sort of floaters to prevent the bees from drowning in the sugar water.
Please take the warning that most colonies starve and crash in March. The increase brood requires much more food. In fact, they are consuming much more food than they can bring in. So they will rapidly deplete their stored resources. Feed your bees starting now!
Thanks for joining us for another lesson in beekeeping. Please check out our other resources:

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Monday, February 6, 2012

LESSON 114: Is A Warm Winter Good For Bees?

Winter Cluster DrawingBees overwinter best when they are held at a temperature that keeps the cluster quiet and eating very little honey. That’s why sometimes we say we are putting the bees to bed for the winter. Though bees do not hibernate like bears, they cluster, produce heat, eat and wait for warmer days. There is an ideal temperature between 30-40 degrees F that keeps the bees quiet and eating the least amount of food. The warmer the weather the more the bees eat. AND oddly enough, the colder the weather (below 30 degrees F) the more the bees eat to generate heat. Does an unseasonably warm winter mean trouble for bees? Yes.
FullhiveDon’t panic just yet. If a colony is healthy, meaning they are not suffering from viruses, mite overload or high nosema spores, they always stand a better chance of making it through the winter. But remember this: They need numbers!  A colony must be heavily populated to provide the needed heat during extreme cold snaps. A large colony can generate more heat with less consumption of honey. In a smaller colony each bee will have to work harder to generate enough heat, which requires the consumption of more food.
It is not unusual for smaller colonies to die in the winter even though they had plenty of honey. It is because they could not maintain a survivable temperature in the cluster. In this case, the winter did not kill the colony, but rather poor summer and fall management. The colony was just too small to overwinter.
Winter ClusterIn the winter, the colony’s cluster shrinks in size as temperatures fall. The colder the temperature, the tighter and smaller the cluster becomes. This can be another explanation as to why bees die in close proximity to frames full of honey. Let me explain. On day one, the outside temperature can be 30 degrees F resulting in the cluster compressing into a loose cluster. They will begin to consume honey in combs near them. The next day, the high temperature may drop  to 10 degrees F resulting in the bees compressing into a very tight cluster, shrinking in size even more. If the bees are held in this tight cluster for several days, they can quickly consume all honey near by. To complicate matters, winter can throw another punch and the temperature can continue to sink resulting in the bees being unable to break cluster to go to areas nearby containing honey. As the cluster tightens and shrinks the comb around them has been drained of honey. As a result, the bees can starve out with nearby honey in combs they cannot reach due to the cold temperatures.
Winter survival depends on these factors:
1) Low level of mites
2) Low level of diseases and viruses
3) Amount of bees that can generate heat
4) Volume of stored honey and pollen
1) Lift the rear of the hive to check the weight. If the hive is very light the colony is lacking stored honey and needs fed.
2) Do not remove frames unless the temperature is 60 degrees F or higher.
3) Do not feed liquid sugar during the winter. It will freeze. Also the bees will be unable to fly out and defecate due to being tightly clustered. Instead feed solid sugar such as our Winter-Bee-Kind Candy Boards. We’ve started the Beekeeping Video Institute and we featured our Winter-Bee-Kind in our first video. See our 1st Beekeeping Video Institute below.

4) Bees die in February and March when the weather begins to warm up a little, but there is still no available nectar or pollen. This is more common in northern states such as mine, Illinois. The queen starts laying more and the added brood requires much more consumption of resources that cannot be replaced. Late winter is the time to start feeding a liquid sugar mixture, one part sugar to one part water. It is only advisable to feed sugar water when you know the bees will be able to fly out of the hive once or twice a week. Pollen substitute is always a valuable resource to keep in the hive. Bees with a variety of pollen are always healthier. Yes, bees need pollen even during the winter. Pollen is the bee’s protein. In late winter, here in Illinois, bees are starved for protein and will begin eating almost anything that resembles pollen such as dog and cat food, dust from tiny bird seeds, and even our saw dust piles. Every spring I spread out dry pollen powder and the bees go crazy hauling it back to the hive.
Thanks for joining us for another lesson from Long Lane Honey Bee Farms.
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