Monday, July 23, 2012

Bee Transfer Continues

The transfer of feral bees from the tree to the modern Langstroth hive continues. Here is the plan for moving honey bees from a hollow tree to a modern bee hive: As bees leave the tree, they are unable to return to their nest, but they find an acceptable nest inches away in a modern bee hive holding a queen-right bee colony. When the transition started, the feral bees left their nest in the hollow catalpa tree as usual to forage. When the foragers returned, they found their entrance hole blocked by the one-way screen funnel. Desperate to get back to their nest, the foragers probed the area around the entrance hole until they found an alternative entrance around some broken tree bark. As long as bees can return to their feral nest in the hollow tree, the transfer is ineffective. Once I blocked the bees’ new entrance around the broken bark with window screen, duct tape, and roofing shingles, the transfer to the new hive progressed effectively. Beekeepers should return to the transfer site daily to observe the condition of the screen funnel and the bees’ activity. At night, skunks or raccoons may damage the funnel. During daylight hours, the beekeeper should see bees exiting the tree through the funnel. Darkening the funnel with duct tape encourages the bees to walk to the end of the funnel. A lack of bees may mean that the funnel is blocked with dead bees.

Every feral transfer attempt progresses differently, and at times corrective action is required to complete the bee transfer. After a week in place, I checked the Langstroth hive and found a large population of bees, plenty of capped brood, but no eggs or open brood. It appears that the bees killed the marked queen. This required me to bring in another colony of bees in a Langstroth hive body and combine the hives using a newspaper separator. After another week it appears the bees accepted this second queen.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Paul Mallory

Beekeepers across the Mid-South moved their bee hives an inch this week in the Old English custom of notifying the bees of a death in the family. The Memphis Area Beekeepers Association lost a dear friend, Paul Mallory, a beekeeper for 68 years. Almost every Short Course in Beekeeping held annually by the MABA began with Paul’s tale of following a young beekeeper driving a pickup truck overloaded with bee hives. Paul related that every few minutes, the truck pulled to the side of the road; the driver got out, beat the hives with a stick, and then continued driving. When the truck reached its destination, Paul asked the young man why he was banging on the hives. The explanation was simple: he had a ton of bees to carry in a half-ton pickup truck, so it was necessary to keep half of the bees flying. Paul introduced new beekeepers at the local association’s annual Short Course in Beekeeping with the most understandable explanation of why a person would want to become a beekeeper. After his brief presentation, a few attendees were relieved to understand that handling stinging insects was not for them; others knew exactly why they wanted to learn the art and science of beekeeping.

Once, a swarm of honey bees moved into the MABA’s storage shed and built a huge nest behind a stack of hive equipment. I assisted a group of association members to expose the feral nest, cut out the combs, and band them into two deep hive bodies. However, we could not find the queen. At the end of the lengthy operation, Paul, sitting quietly, suggested that we look into the opposite corner of the room where a number of bees were posed with tails high and wings fanning. There, we found the queen. Paul’s picture and other stories of his significant beekeeping career can be seen at Flowers celebrating Paul’s life, like today’s groundsel, are seeded on roadsides across the Mid-South.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Retrieving Feral Bees

Often beekeepers are called upon to remove feral colonies of honey bees from cavities in hollow trees. In many cases the beekeeper can discuss with the property owner if it is necessary to move the bees at all. Those who decide to leave feral bees in place add to the pollination of the neighborhood as well as adding to the genetic diversity of the bees in the area. Sometimes safety is an issue, as when the feral colony’s flight path is close to human or pet paths. I was asked to remove a feral colony of honey bees from a hollow tree located adjacent to the parking area of a public office building. To accomplish the removal of the colony and the saving of the bees, I chose to use a one-way funnel arrangement. The same arrangement can be used to remove bees from the walls of a building.

In today’s photo, working at night, I am fashioning a cone-shaped screen funnel to cover the bees’ entry hole in the tree. It is important that the feral bee nest have a single entrance; the beekeeper must block any extra entrances. With the bees now able to leave their nest but not return, I will place a modern hive close to the funnel to receive the bees. The hive contains a queen-right bee colony with a small population. A good candidate colony for accepting the feral bees is a nucleus colony with a young, egg-laying queen. The transfer of bees works simply: The large number of bees in the tree overwhelms the guard bees in the receiving hive, and they move in. The transfer starts immediately upon placing the funnel, but takes from six to 12 weeks to complete. Eggs laid inside the structure emerge as adults in three weeks, and those bees fly from the tree in another three weeks. Eventually, the colony in the tree declines and perishes while the colony in the hive grows with the new queen.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

What's Going On Here?

When the soybeans and cotton are in bloom in the Arkansas Delta, nectar is flowing; and beekeepers avoid brood nest examinations. Instead, they simply monitor the hives to ensure that the bees have sufficient honey storage capacity. While asking what’s going on in the hives, the beekeeper checks to see that all hives are healthy and “queenright,” meaning having an egg-laying queen bee. Observing from the outside of the hives, beekeepers watch hive entrances for flight activity; there should be a significant number of foragers leaving and entering the hives. Viewing returning workers carrying loads of pollen on their hind legs usually means a colony is feeding brood. Seeing some dead bees on the ground in front of a hive is normal, but finding hundreds of dead may signal a hive problem. A discolored or greasy hive landing board sometimes indicates a weakened colony is being robbed of honey stores by bees from other hives. If observations from the outside appear normal, the beekeeper opens each hive to examine honey supers and add supers as necessary. If there is little bee activity in the supers, the beekeeper should examine the brood nest for healthy bees and a laying queen. Today’s photo shows pearly white larvae of healthy young brood in open cells. Finding open brood in a pattern of continuous cells indicates the hive held a productive egg-laying queen in recent days.

The acquisition of firms dealing with honey bee health by big chemical companies is worrisome to beekeepers. Many are afraid that their interest in profiting from the sale of pesticides will cause them to quell research and silence unfavorable findings regarding the effect of chemicals on bees, beneficial insects, and pollinators. Zhara Um Nikko asks, “What’s going on here?” She reads about Monsanto’s September 2011 purchase of Beeologics, a firm devoted to studying and protecting bees, Also, Natural News,, questions whether Monsanto’s purchase of Beelogics will support research or quell the flow of information.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Pesticides in Pollen

One of the intriguing aspects of beekeeping is the complexity of the honey bee nest. Beekeepers spend their first year observing the way bees build their nest by secreting beeswax and constructing honeycombs. The combs contain the three stages of developing brood and pollen and honey for food. The pollen is of different colors. Some is wet and darker in color; this is bee bread, food for brood made of pollen mixed with honey. Honey is stored in open cells or cells capped with beeswax. Beeswax cappings vary in color from white to brown. The surface of the cappings may be textured to resemble hieroglyphic writings. Capped brood is similar in appearance to capped honey, but the texture is somewhat gritty. Drone brood cells are dome-shaped; some call them “bullets.” Queen cells hang vertically and resemble peanuts in shape and texture. Queen cell cups are empty bowls facing downward.

After a while one feels that he has seen everything in a bee hive. I was surprised to find frames unlike any I had seen before. They contained cells of sunken, brick-red cappings. When I opened the capped cells, I found that they contained pollen. Pollen is not normally encapsulated in the cells. This condition was first reported by researchers looking for causes of honey bee Colony Collapse Disorder, CCD. The researchers found that bees “entombed” chemically contaminated pollen. See The most frequently detected contaminants were the miticides coumaphos and fluvalinate and the fungicide chlorothalonil. Combinations of certain pesticides are quite toxic to honey bees. The miticides fluvalinate becomes 1000 times more toxic to honey bees exposed to fungicides commonly used to treat cropland, orchards, and home gardens. Studies conducted with hives having entombed pollen found higher rates of mortality. This research did not associate entombed pollen with CCD.  Finding frames of entombed pollen in my Peace Bee Farm hives that are not chemically treated indicates that contaminants are brought into the hive by the bees. Today’s photo: entombed pollen.