May 2023 - Volume 29 - Issue 5
Hello Pierce County Beekeepers!
WOW!! What a busy 4 weeks we've had! We had a booth at the Spring Fair, the Tacoma Sustainability Expo and The Master Gardener Plant Sale, which were all great successes! We installed packages and nucs on two separate Apiary Days and have had 2 additional impromptu apiary days for maintenance, since. We had a great guest speaker, Dr. Nick Naeger at the May Meeting presenting his study on how fungus can help bees fight varroa mites. Finally we had our Silent/Not-so-silent Auction, which was a blast, followed by our Dessert Potluck which was over the top delicious!
Our next event will be a presentation given at the Point Defiance Garden Gala Festival in June and a booth to sell more honey as a fundraiser. We will be partnering with the Audubon Society for this event.
Then comes the Pierce County Fair in August that will be educational only.
Several of our members will be giving presentations about bees to children in preschool, grade school and a Girl Scout Troup.
Swarm season has officially started with several calls coming in from the community over the last few days.
I'm so excited for the Association and how it is really growing and expanding in its service to our members and community. Thanks to you all. We couldn't do it without you!
- Mary Dempsey, PCBA President
To all the new beekeepers, Welcome to the colony! To all the returning members, thanks for bee-ing here! To all the people who are, “thinking about it”... stick around. We can’t wait to get to know you!!!
Volunteer sign up opportunities
Members, we need you! Pierce County Beekeepers Association couldn’t happen without you, our volunteers! Please sign up to help with the upcoming events. It is a great time to get to know other members and educate the community about the bees and what our organization is all about. Some of these events are fundraisers where we will be selling honey.
From brand new beekeeper to experienced beekeeper, you have a place at our table! You pick your comfort level, from selling the honey/ raffle tickets to just talking about bees. Come and join the fun!!
Pierce County Fair: Educational only
State Fair: Educational and fundraiser
Join us for the next meeting!
D.F. Allmendinger Center
2606 W Pioneer Ave, Puyallup, WA 98371
Monday, June 5th, 2023
PCBA Monthly Meeting
Classes start at 6pm
*Beekeeping 101 in the Allmendinger Center
*Sustainability in the WOSSA Building
General Meeting starts at 7 pm
This month we are going to focus on Community Clusters
What the Heck should I be doing now?
A timely article on a Beekeeper's life cycle and what we should be doing with our bees this month.
Is too much Hive Inspection a Bad Thing?
by Rusty Burlew
Hive inspection is a hot topic among beekeepers. I can certainly understand new beekeepers wanting to open their hives and peruse the colony frame-by-frame. It is the very best way to learn about the social structure of a colony, the duties of individual bees, and the physical layout of pollen, honey, and brood.
Nevertheless, I believe it is easy to over inspect. I believe the integrity of the colony should not be compromised any more than necessary. An inspection is nothing less than a home invasion and before you do it, you should have a good reason for doing so.
In the United States, hives are required to have removable frames so that colonies can be inspected for disease. Although it is a good idea, it doesn’t mean that hives should be constantly violated. It means that hives can be inspected periodically or when things go awry.
So how often should hives be inspected? I can’t answer that. Speaking for myself, I seldom inspect frame-by-frame.
Most of the time you can tell everything you need know by standing near your hive and watching. You know a lot by how the colony behaves, the way it sounds, the way it smells, and the number and type of bees that come and go. You can tell even more by watching what they bring in, observing what they haul out, and assessing their temperament. If you walk by your hive on a summer’s evening and it purrs like an insulated engine room, smells like heaven, and the landing board is clean, why on earth would you open it up and disturb everything? It doesn’t make sense.
On the other hand, if the number of bees is decreasing, you see dead bees or pupae unattended on the landing board, you detect an odd odor, or your bees are unseasonably temperamental, open the hive. If you see robbers, predators, or leaking honey, open the hive. If you see lethargic, aimless, or deformed bees, open it up.
Again, speaking for myself, I inspect all my hives in late winter. Later, I open those I’ve decided to manipulate in some way like reversing, splitting, or re-queening. Although I open hives in spring and summer to add supers or remove them, I don’t actually inspect frame-by-frame unless I detect something amiss. If all goes well, I don’t inspect again until fall when I assess honey stores and queen activity just before winter. At that time, I may redistribute honey frames, combine colonies, add feed, or make other winter adjustments. In any case, I never inspect on a calendar schedule. That is, I never inspect just because two weeks has passed, or three. That’s crazy.
That said, I walk by my hives nearly every single day, both summer and winter. In the past, when I had out-yards, I checked on those once a week. There is always something to be learned about the inside of a hive by a quick check of the outside. But every time you start pulling out frames, you run the risk of killing the queen. You agitate the bees. You break propolis seals. You chill the brood. You jar the larvae or dry them. If you damage honey cells, both robbers and predators may pick up the odor and come running.
A lot of routine maintenance can be performed on a hive without pulling out all the frames. You can add feed, pollen patties, or mite treatments by just lifting the lid. You can look for swarm cells by tipping up a brood box and inspecting the bottom. You can assess honey stores by lifting the back end of a box and estimating the weight. You can check for mites on a sticky board. And if the hive is so full of bees you can’t see a blame thing, if it boils over when you lift the lid and the sky goes dark ’cause sunlight can’t get through the cloud of bees, then is it really necessary to check your brood pattern? Get real.
I realize it takes time to develop a feel for what is going on inside a hive. But I urge new beekeepers to strive for that. Compare what you see on the outside to what you find on the inside until you develop an intuition. It will happen sooner than you think. And in any case, use common sense. No animal wants its home torn apart for no good reason. So before you do it, have a clear idea of what your good reason is.
Spring Mistakes to Avoid in Beekeeping
Dadant - Author not listed
Mother Nature Keeps Spring Interesting for Beekeepers
It happens, even to those of us who think we have beekeeping all figured out. No matter how well prepared you are, there are those days when Mother Nature just decides to throw you a curveball. That’s what happened to me that spring morning: I was flat-out stuck, buried up to the wheel wells in mud.
After half an hour of sweating, pulling, lifting and pushing, I looked like I had just finished a summertime mud volleyball tournament — but finally I got myself dug out. I headed off to the next set of stands and, thankfully, was finished and back to the garage before the storms came rolling in.
Beekeepers, like any other professional or hobbyist, have to overcome many obstacles each year. For me, the first one this season was getting dug out of the mud. However, it could have been any number of issues. In this article, I’ll cover some of the more common spring mistakes I’ve made in the past and what beekeepers can do to avoid them.
Common Spring Errors
I’ve made my share of spring mistakes since I started with a few hives 22 years ago. Thankfully, I’ve learned how to avoid making most of them over the years.
Not Feeding Enough in Early Spring
The first of the spring mistakes I learned to avoid is starvation, caused by not feeding enough early in the season. As a new beekeeper, I figured the bees had plenty of resources to make it through until the first black locust trees came into bloom. Boy, was I wrong. Instead of catching my limit of largemouth up the creek on the backwaters of the old Mississippi, I should have spent my time feeding a mixture of 1:1 syrup and pollen substitute.
Not Testing for or Treating Varroa
The second mistake that comes to mind is not testing or treating early enough in the season for Varroa mites. Black locust is our first flow here in the midwestern part of the state and one of my favorite honeys. In the past, trying to catch this flow while properly timing mite treatments proved difficult. When I started keeping bees, Apistan and Checkmite were the two new kids on the block. While effective, the duration of these treatments made supering for the flow almost impossible. Most beekeepers opted to cut treatments in half or skipped them all together to avoid contaminated honey.
Modern Varroa Treatment Options
Fortunately, two springtime treatments are now available that can be used in conjunction with the nectar flow. Mite Away Quick Strips and the newer Formic Pro are formic acid treatments manufactured by NOD Apiaries out of Canada. While both can be used once daytime highs are steadily in the 50’s, Mite Away Quick Strips are a 7-day treatment and Formic Pro takes 14 days. Simply place two pads between the brood boxes. After treatment, if the bees haven’t carried the delivery pads out the front entrance, you can remove them by hand.
If you still have a few weeks until the first flow in your area, another option is using a half dose of Apiguard. By cutting the full 50-gram dose down to 25 grams, you can treat two or three times before the flow gets going. Apiguard works best when temps are in the low 60’s up to 100 degrees.
Another treatment beekeepers report works well is oxalic acid, using either the vaporization or dribble method. Treatments with oxalic acid are applied when temperatures are above 50 degrees and the bees are active. For those who want to really hammer the mites Apivar, an amitraz treatment, works very well. However, the downside to using this method in the spring is the duration: treatment takes 42 days with no supers in place.
Not Having Extra Hives Ready for Swarms, Nucs, Splits or Package Bees
When I first started out, I worked hard to increase my numbers any way possible. Some years, I found myself with more bees than I had room for. These days, I paint four or five additional complete hives so they’re ready to go for those unexpected swarm calls. Every spring it seems we get four or five calls a week from folks who need help getting a swarm of bees down from an unexpected place. Make sure you have your boxes ready ahead of these calls so you can quickly transfer them into their new home. Same goes for package bees, nucs, or splits. Take the time to prepare extra hive equipment now before you need it — you’ll be happy you did.
Not Rotating Boxes in Spring
Last but certainly not least is the rotation of your boxes. I’ve made the mistake of not reversing brood boxes in the spring when I should have. This left the queen up above while the box below remained empty. A good rule of thumb to follow is to reverse in the spring and late summer if needed. This helps provide additional room for the queen to lay, thereby increasing the colony’s population for the first nectar flow.
Have a Great Spring!
Apiary Day Information
Apiary Days will be held May through October,
1st Friday as well as the 3rd Saturday of every month
Apiary Day is weather dependent. Please keep an eye on our Facebook Group to keep up with any updates on what is planned for the next upcoming, including estimated times and lesson plan.
D.F. Allmendinger Center
2606 W Pioneer Ave, Puyallup, WA 98371
Saturday, May 20th, 2023
Friday, June 2nd, 2023
Saturday June 24th, 2023
Please come prepared with full bee gear - suit and/or jacket with long baggy pants, closed toed shoes, a smoker and/or sugar spray, as well as water for yourself. You will be asked to sign a waiver and verify if you have bee allergies. If you have a bee allergy, please come prepared, suited "to the 9's" and have appropriate medications on hand in case of an emergency. We cannot guarantee to have said medications nor appropriate dosages for you, on site.
It's feeling a little SWARM in here!
By Kathleen Clerc, Vice President, PCBA
We sure hit the ground running! Some of us were able to overwinter (congrats on your success!) while others started fresh this spring with nucs or packages coming up from California or from local beekeepers (thanks for sharing, ya'll!). Either way, the bees were late but when they came, we had to hold on to our britches. These bees arrived with some serious intentions and one thing is for sure, not many of us expected things to get so swarmy, so soon! For the bees, it's a party! For the keeper - it's a nightmare.
Let's talk about it!
What are these bees thinking, triggering a swarm... they need to get it together!
I find the act of swarming to be one of the greatest mysteries to all non-beekeepers. I remember when I first heard of a swarm, it turned my understanding of bees on its head. What in the world are all those bees doing, swarming like that? Reproducing? Aren't they doing that... in the hive? Well, yes... and no. You see, the idea of the queen having thousands of bees in her hive is a concept that we are all familiar with. To the untrained eye, the Queen is just a laying machine and uhhh... that's it. That's her hive, she works within the parameters, right? WRONG! Honeybees reproduce in a couple of ways. The Queen lays her eggs and builds the hive, sure. But the TRUE goal of the Queen is to make as many hives as she can, NOT to have the biggest hive on the block. Pretty much the opposite of human goals. The Queen will lay until there is no more room to lay eggs and the population is booming. Once she hits that limit, in her mind, she's set that hive up for success and she has better things to do than to just walk around there, waiting for a cell to open - this Queen has plans, alright?! She's not waitin' for no one! She's got a short, hot season and a hell of a lot to do! Once the original hive is set, the Queen and 50 - 60% of the worker bees, will head out in the search of a new place to "call home".
The Democracy of a Swarm - those buggers VOTE!
Now this part, hands down, is one of the coolest parts in the story of making a swarm, in my opinion; which is saying a lot, because everything to do with a swarm is pretty dang magical and strange. When I first joined PCBA and the OSU program, both were being lead by former President, Jason Sanko. He recommended a few books to read and one of them was Honeybee Democracy by Thomas D. Seeley. Now, if you want an enthralling yet scientific read (not usually mutual), this is totally the book to get.
Thomas D. Seeley spent a lot of time, I mean, a lot of time, observing honey bees and presenting scientific research he discovered himself as well as those made through others. He studied this topic and combined information scattered among dozens of papers from the last 60 years to write his book, starting with research done by Martin Lindauer in Germany.
What Thomas Seeley presented was the following (summarized).
When the Queen has run out of space to lay, she releases a pheromone and scout bees take on the task of trying to find mama's next dream home.
"Before the swarming bees decide their future home, they practice the form of democracy known as direct democracy, in which the individuals within a community who choose to participate in its decision making do so personally rather than through representatives. The collective decision making of a bee swarm therefore resembles a New England town meeting in which the registered voters who are interested in local affairs meet in face-to-face assemblies, usually once a year, to debate issues of home rule and to vote on them, rendering binding decisions for their community."
"No fewer than six distinct properties of a potential homesite—including cavity volume, entrance height, entrance size, and presence of combs from an earlier colony—are assessed to produce an overall judgment of a site’s quality".
"A dissent-free decision. This is what normally arises from the democratic decision-making process used by house-hunting honeybees and, quite frankly, I find it amazing. The debate among a swarm’s scout bees starts with individuals proposing many potential nesting sites, vigorously advertising the competing proposals, and actively recruiting neutral individuals to the different camps. All this makes the surface of a swarm look at first like a riotous dance party. Yet out of this chaos, order gradually emerges. Ultimately the debate ends with all the dancing bees indicating support for just one."
There is so much more to this incredible behavior, but if I wrote all of it here, I might as well write my own book - so, check out Thomas Seeley, Honeybee Democracy, you wont regret it. But I'm moving on to the more technical side of the story.
What in the H-E-Double Hockey Sticks does a Beekeeper do?
Signs that a colony might swarm include:
A very high population of bees in the hive.
The whole width of the entrance is used by forager bees.
All frames within the hive are fully drawn.
Queen cells along the bottom of brood frames, either practice, capped or "charged" (meaning an egg has been implanted into the cell and they have begun to feed it a white substance called Royal Jelly)
Brood frames are full of resources (nectar, pollen, honey, capped and uncapped brood).
High pollen flow in you area, but limited nectar availability.
Bees are storing larger amounts of honey in and above the brood frames, and any other vacant space in the hive. This can lead to a colony becoming honey logged, which reduces the colony's brood rearing space.
High drone population, plus evidence of capped drone cells or larvae. Drones are made in preparation to mate with a new queen. This also shows the colony is resource rich; they can afford to expend time and resources for the care of drones. If a colony begins to decline, drone bees are usually the first to go.
Know your Queen Cells
If you find swarm cells in your hive, the colony has decided to swarm and there is little you can do about it, apart from splitting.
Practice or Dummy Cells
Smaller, shorter, incomplete, dummy cells don’t necessarily mean that the colony is going to swarm, unless work is continued on them. They are often made as practice queen cups by worker bees.
Made with the intention of making a queen. As these grow they begin to resemble an unshelled peanut. If an egg or larva is in the cup, then the colony is preparing to make a queen. It takes approximately 16 days for a queen to emerge, from the day the egg laid. (Photo is of a "charged" Queen cup with larvae)
Also known as a swarm cell, this is a queen cup but the bottom of it is sealed, meaning the larvae has been fed and is now in the pupating stage. Bees often make lots of swarm cells (average of 12) which are present throughout the whole hive, usually assembled at the bottom of brood frames.
Looks similar to a queen cell, it's a colony's natural way of replacing a queen because—in their eyes—she is ‘failing’ (e.g. poor laying pattern, pheromone is weak). Supersedure cells are usually situated around the middle of the brood frame, compared to swarm cells (usually along the bottom of the brood frames). Supersedure cells are usually close together, only a few are made (3 - 4) and are similar in size because the larvae are the same age.
Types of Swarms
There are three different types of swarms: primary swarms, secondary or after-swarms, and absconding swarms.
Usually the first swarm of the season. It involves the original queen leaving with about half of the colony and some drones. These are often larger in size.
These occur after the primary swarm, meaning they’re usually quite a bit smaller, sometimes leaving with one or more virgin queens soon after the primary swarm has left. Colonies that frequently swarm are often re-queened, because this tendency can be influenced by genetics. Older queens have a tendency to swarm more frequently, which is why some beekeepers replace their queens every few seasons.
This is when the entire colony leaves the hive for a variety of reasons, including wrong climate, starvation due to a lack of resources, but most commonly due to being infested by pests and diseases which have made their space uninhabitable.
Should we just let the bees... swarm?
While honeybees' urge to multiply is natural, letting your bees get to this point is not considered good practice because it poses a risk to the public, your bees, other beekeepers, and honey bee biosecurity in your country.
When a colony swarms you don’t know where they’re going, meaning they could decide to reside in an inconvenient place (e.g. walls, public places), posing a risk to the public.
Letting your bees swarm means that you're losing at least half your colony, and potentially missing honey flows in your area as your bees work to build up the colony again.
Swarms may pose a risk to honey bee biosecurity in your area, because they allow colonies which may be affected by pests and diseases to multiply. Some beekeepers replace the queen so they’re sure of the genetics of the colony.
A large percentage of swarms don’t make it (particularly secondary and after-swarms because they’re smaller in size).
Is it possible to stop swarming without splitting?
Honestly, not really. You can do a temporary split, however, which is something I learned from Jason Sanko. This entails doing a split, then adding space to the original hive, and then reintroducing the original queen back to the original hive 14 days later - by recombining the hive with said split. I used this last year with the newspaper method successfully and am actually doing it again right now as we speak. This way I keep the number of hives I want, with the specific queens I want, and don't suffer much impact to productivity, or delayed laying.
Alternatively, the De-maree Swarm Control Method is used by lots of beekeepers in residential areas.
Both of these methods are labor intensive. Both entail ensuring that no queens are born into the original hive. So you have to be in your hives, a lot. Delaying, delaying, delaying by removing swarm cells.
Should you remove swarm cells?
It doesn't really work out the way you'd hope it to. It may delay them a bit, but when the decision is made... it's either with ya, or without ya. Sorry, bub! They'll just build another cell... and another... and another... and another...
Will a queen excluder prevent swarming?
A swarm leaves with the original queen often meaning that she has mated and her abdomen is too big to fit through a queen excluder. Even though bees starve the queen a couple of days before preparing to swarm so that she is lighter and can fly, she often still isn’t small enough to fit through the excluder.
Like removing queen cells, placing a queen excluder at the bottom of the brood box or along the entrance won’t prevent, nor stop, a colony’s urge to swarm, but can similarly cause a delay and gives you some time to perform a split soon, not immediately. In this circumstance you will see the bees leaving the hive thinking they’re going to swarm, at some point realize the queen is absent and so fly back home.
The reason this doesn't work forever is that eventually, the colony will learn to leave with a virgin queen (or sometimes numerous) because they’re still small enough to get through the excluder. Colonies also respond like this to queens whose beekeeper has clipped their wings. Don't do that...
I'm going to start leaning into other sites for the rest of the info - becuase there truly is a lot to discuss and consider. Too much for me to write when so many have written great articles already.
Dealing with the aftermath of a swarm from your hive
How to catch your swarm (or someone else's)
When bees swarm, choose fascination - not fear
Mississippi State University [READ]
Join our Swarm List!
We often get calls when swarms are found, and we have a running list of people that we call to come and get them. Mary Dempsey, President of PCBA is the current Swarm List Manager. The list is not a lottery nor seniority focused, it is based on location.
To join the Swarm List you must be an ACTIVE PCBA Member.
Pierce County Beekeepers Association
General Meeting Minutes
Member Suggested Resources & Articles
If you have suggestions for the newsletter, please send to Kathleen email@example.com
Member Suggested Resources & Articles
If you have suggestions for the newsletter, please send to Kathleen firstname.lastname@example.org
Homemade Swarm Lure Recipe - by PCBA Member, Rebecca Morris [READ]
Directed evolution of Metarhizium fungus improves its biocontrol efficacy against Varroa mites in honey bee colonies (2021) Jennifer O. Han, Nicholas L. Naeger, Brandon K. Hopkins, David Sumerlin, Paul E. Stamets, Lori M. Carris, and Walter S. Sheppard. Scientific Reports 11:10582 [READ]
A Field Trial of Probiotics - First published in ABJ May 2021 - Randy Oliver [READ]
Walking The Walk - Selective Breeding For Mite Resistance; 2022 Update, Part 1 - Randy Oliver [READ]
"Seeds for Bees" with Project Apis m. presented by Rory Crowley and Stetcyn Malonado - Beekeeping Today Podcast [LISTEN]
WA State Pollinator Health Task Force [LEARN MORE]
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