Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Fall Bee Hive Set-Up

Fall bee hive management tasks prepare the hives for the bees’ winter survival. When the beekeeper sets up the hives for winter on a warm fall day, he or she will make a number of observations and hive adjustments. First, the hives must be queen-right. We don’t need to actually locate the queen, just see evidence that the hives have a healthy queen. Finding eggs or larvae tell us that a queen has been laying eggs recently. Queen bees reduce their egg laying in the fall and usually stop laying eggs completely as winter approaches. If a colony is weak, we should combine it with a strong colony. It is best to take our winter losses in the fall and not risk losing valuable honeycombs to wax moths. It is extremely important for beekeepers to manage parasitic Varroa mite levels in the hives. We should sample the bees and measure the mites using an alcohol wash or powdered sugar roll test. If Varroa levels exceed a three percent threshold, then a mite treatment of the hives is needed. Bees in colonies with high mite levels have a shortened life expectancy, and these colonies often perish during cold weather due to a lack of sufficient bees to provide winter cluster warmth.

To successfully over-wintering bees, the hives must have sufficient winter stores of honey, properly placed so that the bees can access it; and the hives must have adequate ventilation, particularly at the top. Arkansas hives require approximately 60 pounds of honey stores. Frames of honey should be on the edges of the fall cluster of bees, and the majority of the honey should be above the bees’ cluster. The beekeeper will likely need to rearrange hive boxes or frames to place the fall cluster low in the hive. As the winter progresses, the bee cluster will slowly move upward, eating through the stored honey. Remove all queen excluders, and reduce hive entrances as in today’s photo.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

September Beekeeping

September brings changes for the bees. Summer flowers, yielding light colored and mild flavored honeys for the kitchen table, are replaced by fall flowers, producing robust flavored honeys, which beekeepers usually leave in the hives for the bees to consume over winter. Adrian Higgins describes how homeowners can plant flowering plants to provide a continuum of blooms providing nectar and pollen for honey bees throughout the spring, summer, and fall: https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2018/sep/08/a-boon-to-bees-20180908/. As well as listing numerous species available for horticultural plantings, Higgins reminds us to provide bees water and avoid using pesticides. Another recent publication, About You Digital Magazine, http://aymag.com/all-the-buzz-arkansas-beekeepers-keep-hope-alive/, features Arkansas beekeeping friends, Jon Zawislak of the University of Arkansas Extension and John and Corinne Smith of Central Beekeepers Supply of Russellville, Arkansas. Apiary instructor, Jon Zawislak, explains the plight of honey bees that are stressed by parasites, pathogens, and loss of habitat. He explains that public awareness of the importance of honey bees in the production of our food has brought in many new beekeepers. John and Corinne Smith supply these beekeepers with bees, hives, and equipment at their Russellville business. John Smith explains the importance of bees, “Any non-wind-blown crop has to be pollinated by insects. And the honey bee is the world’s most efficient pollinator.” Zawislak is quite the promoter of Arkansas honey: “Fresh raw honey is so different and superior to what sits on most supermarket shelves that there is really no comparison. If you have ever eaten a true Arkansas homegrown tomato in the middle of the summer, you understand how different it is from those tough pink things labeled as a tomato in the supermarket in the winter. The difference in honey is like that.”

Elsewhere in Arkansas, a black bear was removed from the city of Conway near the University of Central Arkansas campus (UCA mascot is a bear). Several members of the Ozark Foothills Beekeepers Association, based in Conway, have experienced bears visiting their bee hives. Today’s photo: September goldenrod.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Jon Zawislak

His name is Jon Zawislak; it rhymes with “Zah-FISH-Lock,” but everyone knows him simply as “Jon Z.” Jon’s known by beekeepers across the state of Arkansas and beyond for his engaging beekeeping training regularly accentuated with humor. Jon is an Eastern Apicultural Society Master Beekeeper and Arkansas’ State Extension Apiculturist. In this position, Jon trains beekeepers and conducts research on honey bee health issues. I have encountered numerous beekeeper students of Jon’s classes. They are enthusiastic, and they always feel like they are well-prepared by Jon’s instruction to start their beekeeping adventure. I have participated in some of his research. In one study, Jon searched for parasites that might be preying upon the invasive Small Hive Beetle. Sampling bees, combs, and soil surrounding the bee hives, Jon found on my farm and several other Arkansas sites a parasite attacking these pest beetles. The parasite has the potential of being a biological control of Small Hive Beetles, https://peacebeefarm.blogspot.com/2011/10/are-beetles-vulnerable.html. Jon also participated in a study of the effect of neonicotinoid insecticides on honey bees, https://peacebeefarm.blogspot.com/2015/02/neonics-questioned_12.html. While many wanted to blame the widely-used class of insecticides for causing excessive bee colony losses, Jon made measurements to get an accurate assessment of the effect of the insecticides. It now appears that the neonicotinoids are not the sole cause of the losses, but instead one of several contributing factors. Jon is always available to answer a technical question. When a reader of this blog questioned the mechanism for honey bees’ passing along genetic information, I asked Jon to explain for me, https://peacebeefarm.blogspot.com/2012/09/honey-bee-super-sisters.html. I am particularly grateful for Jon’s participation with the Arkansas Beekeepers Association as an active member of our leadership, https://peacebeefarm.blogspot.com/2015/11/bee-lining-in-ozarks.html.

Jon Zawislak received the prestigious 2018 Roger A. Morse Outstanding Teaching/Extension Service/Regulatory Award at the Eastern Apicultural Society’s conference at Hampton, Virginia. Dr. Morse developed the EAS Master Beekeeper program at Cornell University. Jon provided me the encouragement to complete my EAS Master Beekeeper certification. He is truly an inspiration. Congratulations, Jon Z.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Build-Up, Behavior, Brood

After evaluating a honey bee colony’s over-winter survival success, the beekeeper can observe other desirable traits for continuous stock improvement. The speed of a bee colony’s springtime population build-up is determined by the queen’s genetic make-up. It is also affected by the age of the queen and the queen’s successful mating with a large number of drones. Conditions in the environment also affect spring build-up. Favorable weather, producing ample pollen from flowers stimulates the queen to lay eggs. The beekeeper can stimulate the queen in the same manner by feeding pollen substitute in late winter and early spring. A honey bee colony’s behavior is largely dependent upon the queen’s genetics. Excessively defensive behavior can result from inbreeding or Africanized Honey Bee genetics. Drones in the hive’s surrounding area can influence a hive’s behavior if the drones impart defensive genes during queen mating flights. Environmental conditions also affect a honey bee colony’s behavior. A normally gentle colony is likely to become highly defensive if the hive is attacked by skunks at night. The beekeeper’s actions in manipulating the hive greatly affect the bees’ defensive behavior.

A bee hive’s brood pattern should contain large areas of continuous capped cells of pupae with few empty cells. Today’s photo is an example of an excellent brood pattern produced by a prolific queen. However, genetic conditions can negatively affect the brood pattern. Inbreeding results in brood with many empty cells. The bacterial infections, European foulbrood and American foulbrood, also leave brood with many empty cells. An environmental factor affecting brood pattern is the presence of Varroa mite-infested hives in the surrounding area which may spread these parasitic mites, often by workers robbing weak or collapsing hives. In the early spring, it is common for bees to fill brood nest cells needed by the queen for egg laying with nectar. The beekeeper can significantly affect a hive’s brood pattern by rearranging frames to help prevent brood nest congestion during a strong nectar flow.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Evaluating Queen Bees

Striving for continuous stock improvement, beekeepers evaluate the genetic traits of their queen bees to select their best queens as breeding stock. Observing the behavioral characteristics of the bees in a hive reveals its queen’s genetic traits. However, the queen’s genetic make-up is not the only factor involved in what we observe. Environmental conditions and the beekeeper’s actions also affect the honey bee colony. We can observe the bees’ behavioral traits and select for those traits in offspring as long as they are genetically heritable traits. For example, a honey bee’s hoarding instinct is a heritable trait that determines the bee’s intensity of foraging for nectar to make honey. The color, aroma, and flavor of the honey that the bees produce, however, is not genetically controlled by the bees. A bee hive’s honey production does have a genetic basis related to hoarding instinct. Environmental factors, like hours of sunlight, drought, and dearth of flowering plants greatly affect honey production. The beekeeper’s hive management actions greatly affect honey production. Since it takes a large population of bees to produce a surplus of honey, swarm prevention is important. Equally important for honey production is the beekeeper’s timely placement on the hive of honey supers prior to the nectar flow.

When we measure a colony’s over-winter survival success, we see the results of bees not having a genetic propensity for failing due to Nosema disease or tracheal mites. However, environmental factors like mild weather in the winter lead to excessive consumption of stored food. Likewise, old, dark combs left in the bee hive potentially hold environmental toxins and disease spores that adversely affect colony health by shortening the bees’ lifespans. The success or failure of a bee colony to survive the winter depends largely upon how the beekeeper set up the hive in the fall. Did he or she leave plenty of stored honey and provide sufficient hive ventilation? In today’s photo, an attendant worker passes royal jelly to her queen.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Producing Honey Bee Queens

Twenty-four beekeepers attended my queen rearing class at Bemis Honey Bee Farm as part of our continuing beekeeping educational program. The beekeepers expanded their understanding of honey bee biology and bee colony reproduction. They learned the conditions under which bee colonies produce queens, including preparation for swarming. Before a bee colony divides itself and swarms, it produces a new queen to continue reproducing bees in the original hive. The hive conditions that lead to swarming are the same as beekeepers create to encourage bees to produce queens. The beekeepers learned the importance of record keeping and colony evaluation in producing high quality queens. By carefully observing a bee hive’s characteristics, beekeepers evaluate the queen’s traits. They then select hives with desirable traits to become “drone mother hives” which produce high-quality drones to mate with virgin queens. Hives that the beekeeper determines to be the best-of-the-best are designated as “queen mother hives” producing larvae to develop into high-quality queen bees. The beekeepers learned that to produce these high-quality queens three conditions are necessary: First, we must select from parent queens with good genetic traits; next, the queens must have good nutrition throughout their development; and finally, the virgin queen must successfully mate with a large number of high-quality drones. The beekeepers learned the actions to take to develop a queen-rearing program for continuous stock improvement.

The beekeepers followed the procedures involved in producing queen bees using the Doolittle Method of Queen Production, the method most widely used for producing queens throughout the beekeeping industry. G. M. Doolittle developed the techniques over one hundred years ago. Two beekeeper students employ the Doolittle Method in today’s photo. They are grafting tiny day-old larvae into queen cell cups that they will place into hives filled with workers selected for their ability to produce queens. The beekeepers move the grafted cells from a “cell starter hive” and then to a “cell finisher hive” and finally to a “queen mating nucleus hive.”

Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Bumblebees' Nest

Suitable nesting places are in great demand for small creatures. A birdhouse, built by a friend using old bee hive lumber, hangs on the porch railing of our home. Each year there is considerable competition between finches, wrens, bluebirds, and sparrows for the use of this nesting box. This spring, sparrows won the battle and reared a clutch of baby birds. After the fledgling birds left the nest, bumblebees moved in. Typically, bumblebees live underground in abandoned mouse nests. Unlike honey bees, which have colonies containing thousands of members, bumblebees establish small colonies of several dozen bees. Bumblebees collect nectar and pollen from flowers, and inside the bumblebees’ nest they build small honey pots to hold their food stores. Bumblebees, like honey bees, are gentle insects; however, they both defend their nests from intruders by stinging. When gray squirrels started gnawing at the entrance to the bumblebee colony’s birdhouse home, the bees came out in force. Bumblebees attacked and chased all squirrels and songbirds in the vicinity. They also chased humans from the area. Protected by my beekeeper’s protective veil and gloves, I removed the bumblebee nest from the birdhouse. The disturbed bumblebees persisted in continuing their attempt to drive me away. While bumblebees ignore the touch of a bare hand while they are foraging on flowers, one would surely not want to handle their nest without protective gear!

A trap-door arrangement on the birdhouse allowed me to remove the sparrows’ nest intact. The bumblebee nest filled a vacancy in the center of the soft bird nest material. Today’s photo shows the neat wax honey pots and pollen stores. Bumblebees have longer tongues than honey bees; thus they are able to forage on flowers with deeper, bell-shaped coronas. They carry pollen in pollen baskets on their hind legs. They have a stinger without barbs. Bumblebees are important pollinators of crops and wildflowers, but they don’t produce a surplus of harvestable honey. They are used to pollinate tomatoes grown in greenhouses.