Saturday, August 31, 2013

LESSON 139: Why Bees Fail In Autumn 217-427-2678


Hello from all of us at Long Lane Honey Bee Farms, almost all of us. Welcome to another beekeeping lesson from EAS certified master beekeeper, David Burns. Today’s lesson is about why some colonies seem to be doing great all summer, but all of the sudden become weak, low in population and show signs of brood abnormalities. Maybe you’ve noticed this in some of your hives in late summer or fall.

winterbkind Sheri: Before David shares, I want to encourage all of you to pre-order your winter-bee-kind winter candy boards. We wait until it cools off before we start shipping the WBKs, but the boys are gearing up for a very demanding schedule to fulfill orders, so do order now. If this is your first time to hear about our WBKs or you want to know more information, check out our website at:  Or order now by clicking here. It insulates, ventilates and provides your bees with extra nutrition to help with winter survival.

seth111 We’ve had so much fun this summer here at the honey bee farm working bees, and teaching classes. The weather has bee absolutely gorgeous even though it has been hot the last few weeks.  Karee and I have been running the business while various beekeeping projects keep David traveling alot. Hardly a day goes by without David coming up with another project, idea, product, article to write or a new test to try out in the hives. Our summer hours are 10am – 4pm, which has given me a little more time to read, ride my Harley, visit our new grandson JD in the NICU and help our 5 year old enjoy the last few weeks of summer. Our marine son, Seth, is home for a 10 day pre-deployment leave prior to heading out to Afghanistan.

Bill11 Some of you may not know my dad. He’s on a crutch in the family photo at the top of this lesson because he fell off a fishing dock and fell in the lake and bummed up his knee. My dad, Bill Henness, lives over in Paris, Illinois and has always been a vital part of our business. In the early days, he helped build hives, then later he made our bee vacs. Now he does whatever we need from him. David got my dad started in beekeeping. Years ago, David was hauling a trailer load of live hives and needed to drop them off somewhere other than at our place, so my dad made his place available to us. As a result, David left a few hives for Bill to have and work.  He really started enjoying keeping bees. Now, he keeps expanding his hives and he absolutely loves harvesting and selling honey. His hives have a very successful survival rate and he doesn’t treat or do much to his hives. He’s got hives scattered here and there around Paris, plus he takes care of a few hives for other people.  Now David has a few thoughts before today’s lesson.

David: Sheri’s right, I have been busy. I just returned home from the Eastern Apicultural Society conference at West Chester University in West Chester, Pennsylvania. Nearly 800 beekeepers from around the US and the world gathered to learn and share about honey bees. It was great. When I chose to pursue becoming a certified master beekeeper, EAS proved to me to be the most challenging certification program. After earning my certification 3 years ago, I now enjoy volunteering to test applicants each year. I would encourage anyone wanting to learn more about bees to consider becoming an EAS certified master beekeeper. Preparing for the tests will force you to learn all you can and make you a better beekeeper. It was a blast. Next year EAS  will be at the Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, Kentucky July 28-August 1, 2014. I have developed a great relationship with a strong team of fellow EAS master beekeepers and it’s always great to spend the week together each year at the conference. Visit the EAS website at:

Dr. Caron In this picture Dr. Dewey Caron (far left) grades master beekeepers tests to see who might be new master beekeepers. Assisting Dr. Caron are master beekeepers Landi Samone (certified in 2004) and Stephen Repasky (certified in 2011). Dr. Caron has a new book out entitled Honey Bee Biology and Beekeeping. This is a book every beekeeper must have. It was first published in 1999 but was revised with color photos and updated this year.

Our fall classes are filling up fast but there are still some openings. Our October 19 class filled up fast so now we’re offering an additional basic beekeeping class on October 5th from 9am to 3pm. Click here to find out more information, or go to

AlexWild21 World renown insect photographer Alex Wild will be offering his second class at our honey bee farm on October 12. We are still taking registrations so sign up today. It’s a great way to learn how to take spectacular pictures of honey bees. Click here to find out more information on insect photography.

On Fri., Sept 20, we will have a FREE 3 hour Intro to Beekeeping Class here at our farm from 9 - Noon for parents and their Jr High/High School children. Even though it is a free event, registration is required by calling us at 217-427-2678. Space is limited, so call now! (This is a basic overview ONLY, if you are planning on hobby beekeeping, we suggest our all day class on Oct. 5)



Because the weather is different from year to year, the health of a colony is different as well. Last year our hives made more honey than they did this year. Some springs are great for making nucs and other springs are more challenging. I may depress you but I must say that winter is coming. Even though we have several more nice months, now is the time to make last minute changes to your hives to improve winter survival. Does your hive need a new queen? Better requeen now! Does your colony need fed? Start feeding now. Maybe you have one hive that is so weak it needs combined now with a stronger hive.

During this last month of summer the race is on to improve the health of our colonies. Aggressively pursue reducing your level of varroa mites. This is a good month to break the brood cycle of your bees to help reduce mites. Click here to read my article on how to break the brood cycle. Only do this is the colony has significant brood and adult bees.

All of these measures require a thorough fall inspection, frame by frame. During your fall inspection you may discover that what was once your best hive is now your weakest. You might notice that their population is lower, brood is spotty and even the brood may look abnormal. There can be many contributing factors. Sometimes I’ve noticed it is simply because the bees are starving from a lack of nectar in the area. Larvae isn’t fed well and starts to suffer. The adult bees start to eat the eggs that the queen lays and the hive begins to dwindle. It can also be caused from a failing queen. Maybe the queen simply has come to the end of her life. However, PMS should be considered.

In my beginner and advance classes I always mention PMS. When I mention that bees can get PMS, most people think I’m joking and laugh. But it’s not human PMS but bee PMS. It stands for Honey Bee Parasitic Mite Syndrome, named by the Beltsville Bee Lab. Beltsville concluded that varroa and tracheal mites were the principle cause or carrier of some potential virus or disease causing PMS. However, more and more studies cannot consistently point to a particular pathogen.

BMPS With BPMS there is usually a significant amount of honey in the hive. A starving hive may look the same but would not have stored honey. When I see a colony with plenty of stored honey, but experiencing a sudden drop in population with spotty brood, a recent queen event, and no specific brood disease, I suspect PMS. A frame of PMS can be misleading because the larvae and pupae can look like European foul brood and American foul brood. Sacbrood and chalkbrood may be present too. Here are a couple of pictures of a frame of BPMS that was presented in the lab for prospective master beekeepers taking their lab tests. Click on the images for a larger view and become familiar with it.


In this picture it looks like American foul brood but the bacterium Paenibacillus larvae is not present. A beekeeper a few miles from me has a hive with BMPS. Her hive has the classic symptoms and I will start a few experiments on it this week to see if it is possible to strengthen the hive. Usually a colony with BPMS does not survive the winter and if it survives the winter, it crashes in the spring.


Since there is no known pathogen, we really do not know how to prevent it. Certainly keeping mite levels down is important and regularly inspecting your hive can help make an early diagnosis of PMS.


Again without knowing the cause, treatment is a guess. I will be placing a comb of sealed brood along with a new queen in the hive. Then, I will place a top feeder with 1:1 sugar water with Honey-B-Healthy just to see how it might respond to a new queen and being fed. I’ll keep you posted.

Thanks for joining us for another beekeeping lesson. We hope you’ll visit our website at, buy some hives and get started in beekeeping! The 2014 bee season is fast approaching. Decide now to do it! We are ready to be your friend and mentor in beekeeping. See you next time!
David and Sheri Burns
Long Lane Honey Bee Farms
facebooktwitter iconYoutube