Sunday, February 24, 2013

My battle with the Varroa!

Perhaps there is no greater threat to the health of a honey bee colony than an infestation of Varroa mites. They are responsible for acting as a vector for spreading disease – maybe even related to the spread of nosema cerenae. Some evidence I've read points to this pathogen as the cause of CCD. However, there is much debate and on-going research on this.

There are many products and treatments that have been introduced lately that help. However, I am committed to using natural methods. Some of these treatments involve chemistry that intuitively tells me that it's dangerous for the bees. Plus, they are usually costly. Many folks would argue that the 'chemical treatments' are worth it because if you lose a hive, well.... that is pretty darn costly as well!

I get that and I understand.

But this is where some simple and low cost methods may prove to be just as effective if not more so.

This is where the 1/8ths inch screen comes into play. 

By using this screen, the bees can walk across it but if the nasty varroa mite adult falls off while moving from one bee to another, it will fall through the screen and not be able to breed and continue the infestation. From some studies that I've read, this eliminates 30 – 40 % of the mites making the 'load' manageable with a strong hive.

There is no way for the varroa mite to develop a 'resistance' to this mechanical type of treatment. I also think the development of hygienic breeding stock will help. I currently am breeding a line of bees that have a Russian/Carnolian genetic background. They are very successful here and I've had great luck with them and overwintering. I'm looking forward to rearing more queens this spring using some of the hygienic Carnolian/Caucasian as breeding drones from Washington State University stock.

For more tips and techniques - please see Ross Conrad's excellent book on Natural Beekeeping.  It is a great resource and it will certainly give you some ideas for dealing with this and other hive pests. 

Click here to see these 'hygienic bees' fighting off the Varroa:

I feel the combination of these two things, 'hygienic' bees with the Russian genetics AND the use of varroa screens, will provide the greatest - most long lasting strategy for dealing with this darn pest.

Construction Tips:

The screen is the most expensive part of this. I figured it cost me about .50 cents for the screen. I bought a large roll of it and cut them to fit my 8 frame equipment. Using a brad nailer, simply cut some ¼ pine stock strips and apply them so that your super will 'stand off' from the base of the screen. This will allow your bees to move freely across the bottom of your hive – just below the frames. 

I am also a believer in using a bottom entrance – so I make an allowance for that too. This is a small-ish entrance that allows for ventilation and is easy to guard when Yellow Jacket season comes along.

I used my 2 inch staple nailer to apply 3 strips of waste wood to act as a base. This is handy for when I use my hand truck to move populated supers. My back always thanks me for this!

Have a good day and please don't hesitate to share your ideas too!

We'll talk about my outer or 'weather' covers next week.

Friday, February 22, 2013

New Discovery !

It seems we are learning more and more about the interaction with plants and pollinating insects.  NPR ran this story this today on "Morning Edition"

"Heaven and Earth are full of more things that are ever dreamt of in your philosophy Horatio"  - Hamlet

More inner cover ideas... continued.

Here are the dimensions of the 'spring' and 'winter' inner cover. There is a piece of 1/8th's discarded paneling cut on my table saw to match the size of a typical 8 frame super. 

Along with this, I use a small 1 ½ inch ventilation hole that is screened that permits air flow in the hive when we get rather hot in the summertime. Hard to imagine now with our late winter snow and all! I use screened bottom boards a method of mite mitigation but the real benefit might be the reduction of excess moisture in hives. I leave a small piece of wood there to block this off during the colder times of the year. 

These pictures show the adjustable upper entrance. A simple screw holds it in place and allows you to quick close or open – depending on the weather or time of year.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Some Inner Cover Ideas

I build my inner covers with three purposes in mind. They are:
1. Winter time inner cover
2. Spring-Summer inner cover
3. Main hive entrance.

If you are a bit handy with a table saw and power tools, you should have no problem building these for a fraction of the retail cost. I think these cost me about 45 cents to make with the bulk of the materials that I collected from construction sites - destined to go to the landfill. It is nice to be able to re-purpose things like this, plus it saves you money. Everyone likes that!

 Let's discuss the Winter Time inner cover first. In the late winter – as the bees begin to break cluster – I want them to be able to move across the top bars of the frames to get to the surplus honey that I left them back in the previous year. By providing some extra 'head room' the bee's heat pools there and allows for easy movement across the frames. Also, I place some sugar and a pollen patty in the space as an emergency ration. There is a small 3/8th inch hole for hive ventilation as well.

For Spring, I simply turn the inner cover over to a much shorter 'head room'. This prevents the bees from building burr comb in the that void. They do a little bit of this from time to time, but with a shorter ceiling they don't do this as much.

The Spring side has the main entrance hole which is adjustable. I have found this to be very important. In the early spring, I narrow this entrance to prevent heat loss. As the days get warmer and the population begins to expand, I will open this entrance more. However, in the late summer/early fall we have trouble with Yellow Jackets. I will close this down a bit to help the bees defend their homes from these marauders.
I will post more details on my inner covers tomorrow. Stay tuned !

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Our Afternoons are starting to warm up a bit when there are no clouds.  This usually warms up the  boxes and stimulates the colonies to break cluster.  I do have some feed on them, along with some pollen patties as a supplement.  They are taking up the feed and are interested in the patties.  Once we get up in the 60's, temperature wise, I hope to make a full inspection and see how these new queens are doing.    On this day it was about 46 degrees out and they were coming out to do some 'cleansing flights'.   There are now little orange dots all over the back yard!


Saturday, February 9, 2013

Great news !

I have completed a 3 month winter temperature study of one of my colonies.  By using remote sensors, I collected the temperature from a control (blue line) box that was empty.  The two sensors collected and stored the temperature on 30 minute intervals.  The red line shows the temperature collected from a populated hive.  As you can see - the colony reaches a state of near homeostasis. 

The data is stored in a simple spreadsheet or text file that I can send to you - if you are interested.   Please visit and enter your info into the Contact page.  I do this to minimize spam and I don't give or sell your information. 

Monday, February 4, 2013

 One of the easiest things you can do to raise the temperature of your 'feed box' during the late winter/early spring,  is to use passive solar heating.  I use this box on top of the inner cover with a jar of 1:1 feeding syrup through an access hole in the inner cover.  If you paint this side of the box and expose it to the southern side, you gain some extra heat to warm the syrup.   As you can see from my experiment today I have gained an extra 4 degrees.  This may not sound like much, but it could be critical to helping the bees to get some feed early in the season.   Any extra help during this critical time of the colonies life - could effect its survival.
Solar Passive Heat Experiment:  Black vs. White Painted