December 2018 - Rookie Mistakes
Standardize the equipment you’re going to use. If you’re going to use deep hive bodies for brood, only use deeps. If you’re going to use all mediums (lighter weight), only use mediums. If you’re using deeps for brood; then decide on all mediums or shallows (lighter than mediums) for honey supers. Why? If you have more than one hive and use mediums for brood in one and deeps for brood in the other, you will not be able to swap frames between hives if needed. If you’ve got both shallows and mediums for honey supers, you may have trouble balancing the load in the extractor, and the extractor with a motor will be walking across the floor with an unbalanced load. Consider using all mediums for both brood and honey supers. There are many advantages to such a choice, both in terms of weight and also in that everything is interchangeable.
While you’re assembling hive bodies and honey supers, make certain that all handholds are on the outside. While assembling frames be sure to put a nail through both of the side bars into the top bar. This is so when you attempt to pry up a heavy frame that the bees have glued in place with propolis, you get the whole frame and not just the top bar. This should also be added to pre-assembled frames that have a single staple vertically through the top bar into each side bar.
When starting a new hive on foundation, feed until all foundation in the brood nest is drawn out into comb. Stop feeding when you add honey supers and let the bees draw foundation in honey supers using nectar. Otherwise you will have sugar “honey.” If using plastic foundation, you can get the bees to draw out foundation quickly by coating it with beeswax. Never put foundation over a queen excluder; the bees will not go up through the excluder to work the foundation. When starting with foundation, push all the frames tightly together. If you space the frames out, the bees, most likely, will draw comb perpendicular to the foundation, attaching the frames to one another.
Mice love to winter over in hives, building nests, chewing foundation and eating bees. They rarely kill the hive but can do major damage to equipment. Get mouse guards on your hives before cold weather sets in or you might just be shutting a mouse in the hive! Half-inch hardware cloth cut to the length of the opening and bent lengthwise in the shape of a vee works well. The apex of the vee is pushed into the hive opening and the guard is secured to the bottom board with tacks or push pins. It can be left on year round or removed in spring.
Always have a lit smoker and use it as needed. Use a little smoke in the entrance before working the hive, a little in the inner cover hole and then a little across the frames of the top box. If the bees start coming up out of the frames, a few more puffs will send them back down. Without smoke, you run the risk of having the bees chase you from the hive and they may not differentiate between you and a neighbor. Know what you’re looking for when you go into a hive for an inspection, e.g. adequate food or stores, brood pattern, laying queen, etc. A hive should only be open for a short while during an inspection. Don’t keep a hive open for an hour while you search for a queen. If you see eggs, you have a queen. Can’t see eggs? If you see tiny, newly-hatched larvae, you know the queen was there four or five days ago. Consider getting a pair of drug store reading glasses to help you see eggs.
Once you’ve removed your honey supers from the hive, don’t leave them anywhere accessible to bees. They will find them within minutes and rob all the honey out of them and take it back to their hive. Extract your honey as soon as possible after removing the supers from the hive. Wax moth and hive beetles can destroy your crop and your frames in a fairly short time – a week if the weather is hot. The warmer the honey is (probably about 90 degrees when you remove it from the hive), the easier it will flow out of the frames. Even storing it overnight in a cool basement will make the honey thicker and hard to remove.
Don’t just take the honey supers off the hives and expect the bees to leave and fly back to their hive. Your supers will get robbed out in short order. Remove the bees first with a fume board, a blower, a bee escape board or by shaking and brushing the bees off each frame (if you only have a super or two), placing each in a spare, empty super you keep nearby and covered while you remove the frames from the hive.
It is easier to separate bees from honey when the bees are still on a honey flow. The end of June or early July works well in New Jersey. The bees will defend their honey much more vigorously during the summer nectar dearth.
To protect your hives against wax moths, after extracting honey return the “wet” supers to the hive over inner cover, with the half-moon opening in the inner cover facing down into the hive and no spacer between the top honey super and outer cover. This position will also discourage robbing by giving the hive a small opening to defend with no direct path to the supers. The hive will quickly clean all the honey out of the supers and move it down into the hive bodies. They can be left on the hive until a killing frost, then stored securely where mice cannot access them. Return the wet supers close to evening to minimize robbing, especially if you keep bees in a suburban or urban setting. To avoid getting burr comb below the inner cover, you can also leave it flat side down and plug the notch, if you have one, with a small stick or duct tape.
Bees do best in locations that are very sunny, well drained, and protected to the north and west from chilling winter winds. Placing your bees on the north side of a building or in deep shade, or in a low spot where cold, damp air collects will most likely doom you to failure. A rule of thumb is to place your hives where the snow melts first.
Only feed your bees when they need it! Use a feeder that is the right size. One gallon of heavy syrup (2:1) will provide about seven pounds of winter stores. Hive in New Jersey need 50 to 60 pounds of honey to make it through the winter. A single deep frame full of capped stores weighs approximately seven pounds; a medium frame about four pounds. Obviously, not only will a quart mason jar on a boardman feeder at the front of the hive provide inadequate feed if your hive is light, it can encourage robbing and the bees will not go down to it on cool or cold nights.
Don’t feed liquid feed once the temperatures go below 50 and stay there. The bees will not be able to invert the sugars and evaporate the excess moisture. Excess moisture in a hive in the winter will kill bees faster than cold weather alone.
Feed light syrup (1:1) in the spring to stimulate brood production (it mimics a nectar flow), but only if the bees need it! If you overfeed in the spring, you’ll encourage swarming.
Don’t feed your bees while you have honey supers on the hive! Unless, of course, you want sugar syrup honey. One member was very proud of her “water white” honey.
Heavily parasitized bees cannot produce healthy, “fat” bees to winter over, and you’ll most likely lose your hive. State Apiarist Tim Schuler warns that researchers cite not treating for mites as the single biggest reason for losing hives. Treat for mites in July or August, in the spring if needed, and in mid to late September into October to guard against reinfestation. Recommended treatments are ApiGuard or Mite Away Quick Strips (both are temperature dependent, so read the label directions carefully), Apivar, and Api-Life VAR. Don’t use ApiGuard or Mite Away Quick Strips (MAQS) with open screened bottom boards because the fumes will just settle and exit through the screen greatly lessening the effectiveness of the treatment. MAQS and the newer formic acid treatment, Formic Pro, are the only effective treatments that can be used with honey supers on the hives. Only apply formic acid when high temperatures for the first three days of treatment are below 85ºF.
There are two strips stuck together in a MAQS sleeve. These need to be separated to use. Don’t use two sleeves as this is twice the dosage! While MAQS is placed between brood chambers on top of the frames, ApiGuard is placed on the top brood chamber and requires a shim between the frames and the inner cover.
Treating for varroa mites effectively is critical to your bees’ survival. An integral part of treatment is to verify that the treatment was effective. Experienced beekeepers routinely do alcohol wash testing both before and after mite treatments and at monthly intervals during the growing season to monitor mite populations.
Honey bees are excellent temperature regulators. Health, populous hives will “beard” on the front of the hives during excessively hot or humid weather. They can cover the front of the hive, wrapping around the sides as well as hanging in a cluster from the bottom board. This is normal behavior and nothing to be alarmed about. Think of it as you would leaving a crowded, hot room full of people to go outside and get some fresh air. Bearding can also occur when you first apply MAQS, Formic Pro, or ApiGuard.