Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Winter Bee Mites Treatment - Oxalic Acid Dribble

Varroa mite on a nurse bee
Warm winters are hard on honey bee hives. Instead of staying clustered, honey bees send out foragers any time the weather is warm enough for flight. This reduces the life span of the winter bees and quickly uses up colony resources. The colony might end up raising brood well into late fall and winter to replace foragers.

A prolonged and mild winter can play havoc with the varroa mite numbers within a honey bee colony.

The last few winters in Northwest Ohio came hard and fast. We did not get a reprieve until Spring time. This year, I had the perfect opportunity to try Randy Oliver's (Scientific Beekeeping) recommended winter mite treatment - an oxalic acid dribble.

I read through his power point presentation. Then I used the Oxalic Acid Treatment Table and made the 1 L batch that treats about 20 colonies. I used a handheld 2 gallon sprayer
(shown on left).
Handheld sprayer for bee mite treatment -
oxalic acid dribble

At the lowest setting, my sprayer dispenses about 2.5 ml per "pass". I made 2 passes per seam of bees. I also did not treat with more than 50 ml per hive, since Randy mentioned in his presentation that Europeans recommend not applying more than that due to the colder and longer winters.

It took us about 1 hour to treat 9 hives. We should be able to see the effect in the Spring.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Changes to my Candy Board Recipe for Winter Feeding

Modified bee candy board with a diagonal rib
to stabilize the sugar block
It is the time of the year when I like to make sure my honey bee hives have plenty of resources for the winter. Even though I check their resources continually through the late summer, this time of the year I provide insurance in the form of sugar blocks.

In past years, I was able to put the blocks on in late October or early November. This year, in part due to El Nino, flying weather is extending well into December. In fact, next week still has highs well into the 50s and 60s. Yep, it is still flying weather even though it is December.

Sugar blocks are a little bit tricky to put on in this kind of weather. I want the bees to think of them as surplus and not as “flow”. For that purpose, this year I am skipping the pollen/patty part of my recipe. I am also adding a diagonal “rib” to my sugar block board that will stabilize the sugar block and prevent it from crumbling due to the temperature swings. You can see the “rib” on the picture.

Finally, in order to make the sugar brick harder, I reduced the sugar in the final phase of the quick-set method from 15 lbs. to 10 lbs. It makes the mixture set slower and as a result, the brick is more uniform.

Here is my updated recipe (original recipe is here):

Candy Board Recipe for Winter Feeding 

Equipment needed:

  • Pot (I use a 21.5 quarts canning pot)
  • Drill with metal plaster stirrer attachment (optional UNLESS you use the quick-set method)
  • Cooking or candy thermometer
  • Scale
  • Gloves
  • Bee candy board forms | bee fondant forms
  • A wooden spoon | spatula to fill the forms and pat the mixture into shape

Ingredients needed:

  • 4 parts by weight sugar (I start with 15 lbs.)
  • 1 part by weight water (3 lbs. and 12 oz.)
  • 1/4 tsp. vinegar for each pound of sugar (1 Tbsp. and 3/4 tsp.)
  • Additional ingredients for the quick-set method:
  • 2 2/3 parts by weight sugar (I use 10 lbs.)


  1. Mix together 4 parts sugar, 1 part water and the vinegar into the pot and set it on high.
  2. Once the mixture starts boiling, start checking the temperature. We are aiming for the soft-ball candy stage or 242F.
  3. You are done once the mixture reaches 242F. Turn off the heat. The mixture is ready to pour when it cools down to about 180F.
  4. If you don't want to wait, you can proceed with the quick-set method:
  5. Make sure you have your power stirrer, your spoon | spatula, your forms, your gloves and the extra sugar set out.
  6. Dump the extra sugar into the mixture, mix it thoroughly and let it cook for about a minute. Spread it into the forms. 

Friday, May 8, 2015

Spring Splits | Splitting Beehives | Kids in the Apiary

Splitting is so fun!
Early splits can be especially nerve-wrecking - you need to order your queen bees months in advance and hope for nice weather to put them in. Miraculously, this past week has been wonderful for making early splits. Lows were in the high 50s and the highs are touching 80s. Apples just started blooming on Monday and the dandelions have been going strong.

Our queen bees arrived on Tuesday 5/5 and we were able to make up our splits later in the day (after 7 pm Eastern).

I made up my splits with 2 capped frames of brood with adhering bees and a frame of open nectar. I also added a patty and filled the rest of the box with drawn frames. Since those splits are in my back yard, I did not remove the cork from the queen cages. I am planning on releasing them on Saturday, 5/9. I left the entrances small for the time being.

Everything went according to plan and my kindergartner assistant was very excited.

The shipping package
Spring queen bees
Filling out the boxes with old brood comb
Here is how it went:
  • Opened up the donor hive and selected 4 frames of capped brood.
  • Transferred the frames into the new boxes, making sure I did not grab the queen.
  • My assistant wanted to see the donor queen, so we went hunting for her. Any guesses where we found her? Yep, she was in one of the freshly made up splits.
  • We ooh-ed and aah-ed over her splendor. And yes, an overwintered queen looks decidedly majestic and ginormous (this is a scientific term ;)) compared to a new spring queen.
  • We moved the donor queen back to her hive, after explaining to her that her kids were missing her (and they were getting angry). 
  • We placed the queen cages on top of the brood. We surrounded the brood the honey frames and placed the patty right on top. Finally, we filled up the remainder of the box with drawn comb.
  • We moved the splits to their new location
  • We experienced a short delay in setting them up while my husband removed a "cute baby mouse" from my hive stand. I don't see anything cute in the little heathens, but oh well...
  • Finally, we filled the feeders and called it a night.

Do your kids want to help out in the apiary?

Friday, May 1, 2015

Getting Ready for Spring Splits | Splitting Beehives

Overwintered queen and newly emerged bees
April was wonderful for buildup. On my first inspection on 3/31, the queen had just started laying with only a couple of frames filled with brood/eggs.

I kept adding patties weekly as the bees were going through them pretty quickly. We had some marginal weather during the first half of April, but the buildup continued steadily.

As of my last inspection on April 26, the bottom box is fully filled with brood and the brood nest is expanding into the second box. The first round of brood is emerging - you can see some brand new fuzzy white bees on the bottom left of the queen picture.

At this point, I can either start expanding the brood nest to try and prevent/delay swarming or I can attempt some early splits. And yes, I have drones!

At this point, I am not planning on letting them raise
Bee patties are going quickly
when the brood rearing gets going
their own queens, because I don't want to miss the early spring buildup. The dandelions are just starting to bloom. Instead, I have ordered VSH queens and they should be arriving some time next week (May 2). The long range forecast calls for lows in the high 50s and highs are in the high 70s. Perfect time for spring splits.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Spring cleanup in the apiary

On Wednesday, April 1, I was finally able to peek under the covers. The temperature was balmy 69F, it was sunny and really pleasant. I took the opportunity to do my spring cleanup:

  • Assess cluster size and food reserves
  • Check the brood nest
  • Clean out the bottom boards

  • I was pleasantly surprised with the size of the clusters. The queen had just started laying. If I needed to treat for mites, it would have been a great opportunity since I found only eggs. At this point in time even a sugar shake combined with cleaning out the bottom board in about 15 minutes or a sticky board would have had a major impact. I did not have to do anything since the mite numbers were very low.

    The bees were making headway on the patties I provided on the weekend. They were heavily working the maple trees. They had multiple pollen frames, a couple of frames of nectar and almost no capped honey. I added a couple of capped honey frames that I held back in the fall.

    I reversed the hive bodies and cleaned out the bottom boards. The hives are all spruced up and ready to go.

    Wednesday, April 1, 2015

    Spring is almost here! in Maria's apiary

    Winter finally let go on Saturday, March 28 and I was able to slip new protein patties into the hives.

    This year, the patties are softer since they were drying out too quickly last year. I’ve also added a few drops of lemongrass oil and spearmint oil to make them more palatable. Each hive got one of the old batch and one of the new batch, so we shall see how that turns out.

    I did not get much of a peek inside since it was in the 40s. However, the maples are blooming and as usual, the temps are taking us for a wild ride. Tomorrow, the weatherman is promising us almost 70F. Hopefully, I will be able to take a quick peek in and assess the situation.

    How are your bees doing?