Wednesday, August 28, 2013

New Bee Advisory Box Required for Some Pesticides (from Entomology Today, Aug. 16, 2013)

From Entomology Today.

New Bee Advisory Box Required for Some Pesticides

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced yesterday that new labels will be required for products containing the neonicotinoids imidacloprid, dinotefuran, clothianidin and thiamethoxam, and these pesticide products will be prohibited when where bees are present.
“Multiple factors play a role in bee colony declines, including pesticides. The Environmental Protection Agency is taking action to protect bees from pesticide exposure and these label changes will further our efforts,” said Jim Jones, assistant administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention.
The new labels will have a bee advisory box and icon with information on routes of exposure and spray drift precautions. Today’s announcement affects products containing the neonicotinoids imidacloprid, dinotefuran, clothianidin and thiamethoxam. The EPA will work with pesticide manufacturers to change labels so that they will meet the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) safety standard.
The EPA recently sent letters to pesticide manufacturers regarding the new labels, the hazard icon, and the language to be used.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Probosci in the sugar syrup, and tails in the air! It's August, time to get ready for winter! Feed feed feed those bees!

Yes, it's only August now.  But, what you do or don't do now, this month, will make the difference in whether your bees survive the winter months ahead in this area.  As stated previously, for this region of the mid-Atlantic in the US, a healthy beehive will need about 60-70 lbs of stored honey to make it through the winter months and survive, and that's for a normal winter.  If it's more severe, they will need more honey stored.

By now, you have removed all honey supers and honey from the hive that you have intended to take.  There will be changes in the hive.  The queen will start to lay brood that are winter bees, not summer bees; (more on this in another post.)  At the first hint of cold weather, the drones will all be kicked out; (more on this in another post).  It's now time to pull out your feeders. (Top feeder from Brushy Mountain shown.)

Feeders come in a variety of forms and fashions.  (I like and use top feeders with floats for the bees to stand upon while they drink.) Before putting them on, be sure they are water tight (ie. do not leak).  Keep in mind that there is a dearth of nectar out there until the fall nectar flow starts with Golden rod and asters in this area, usually mid to late September.  Until then, the bees have nothing to eat except what you feed them or they opportunistically find.

This was brought home to me when my neighbor mentioned last week that some of my bees had been at her hummingbird feeder that morning!  They are starving this time of year.  They also are not happy about the situation.  So, you don't really want them raiding bird or butterfly feeders of your neighbors!  (They can also go to corn syrup sources like recycle bins with soda left in cans, although yellow jackets are far more likely to be implicated doing this.) Keep the bees at home by feeding them.  Also, it's a good idea to wear your beesuit and use smoke this time of year!

Robbing from various insects will be an issue.  I have two hives next to each other.  In the past, if one hive was weak and the other strong, the strong one would rob the weak one of their honey stores.  To prevent this, crack the lids of both hives when working in either one. This puts the guard bees on defense in both hives and discourages robbing in either.

But, robbing can also be a problem with other hymenopterans-bees, wasps, ants, and other insect orders like butterflies, or even mammals-like field mice. Reduce your hive entrances somewhat, so that other bees and other pests cannot get into the hive to rob your bees of feed or honey stores.

Pests of the hive, such as small hive beetles, wax moths, and varroa mites all seem to sky rocket in August, too.  So, it is good to monitor for these pests.  Do a mite drop with an IPM bottom board to check on the mite thresholds in each hive.  If you count more than 20- 25 mites in a hive, begin treatment for them.  (More on this in another post.)  I saw 8 small hive beetle adults in my 2nd hive and 4 in my 1st last weekend when I looked inside. I plan to place beetle traps in both hives and also place containers of DE (diatomaceous earth below the screen bottom boards to catch any small beetle larvae that fall down; this prevents their becoming adults).  Kill any larvae or adults you do see running in the hive; the bees will be chasing them around; just take a finger and squish them! (It gives me great pleasure to do this, as they ruin the wax comb, honey and pollen, and stress the bees.

In August, Costco, and other whole sale distributors of sugar, become your best friends!  You will be buying sugar in largest quantities, usually 50 or 100 lb bags, from now until the first freeze, or whenever your bees stop taking the sugar syrup.  You will also ask all of your friends to save gallon milk jugs for you to use to mix the sugar water.  This time of year you mix your sugar to water in a 2:1 ratio.  It's thick.

Here is the recipe I use for a one gallon milk jug.

8 cups of sugar
4 cups of water
2 tbsp of white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon of cream of tartar (this facilitates the conversion of table granualated sugar to honey)

My dear Walt was at Costco the other day to buy sugar for my bees.  He was in the sugar aisle and a strange man walked over to him and said, "how many hives do you have?!"  The man was there to also buy sugar for his bees!  So, bakers, moonshiners, and beekeepers will all be in the sugar aisles of local grocery stores in the months of August and September!

When you pour the sugar mixture into the top feeders (in my case), you will see immediate results.  All the girls will line up like little piggies at a trough to feed.  Probosci in the sugar syrup and tails in the air!
My girls drain two gallons in a hive in 1.5 days.  Then it's time to resupply and so on until they stop taking it.  So, get cracking, if you want your hives to survive the winter months.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Sweet rewards-honey harvest!

photo from:

There are sweet rewards in store for all the labor invested in your beekeeping venture.  Mid-summer is honey harvest time.  When you hear the male annual dog day cicadas start to sing in July, it's time!  This is as the nectar flow has begun to cease. Things are starting to change in the hive.

As you think about how much honey to take, keep in mind that for this area (of Western Maryland) and our winters which can be anywhere from mild to severe, about 60-70 lbs of honey must be stored up in each of your hives for them to safely make it through the winter.  (So after you take what you will take, you will start feeding the bees to replenish their stores.)

Be proud of your accomplishments, but I'm just saying, "you do not want to be a glutton when you take honey off of your hives!"

 As an example, my hive #1 has produced a lot of honey this season.  The top two supers have been consistently full of honey.  Pests have not been a concern and the queen has been healthy; she has been laying eggs in a nice looking brood pattern-it looks like pie crust and is completely filled in across each frame.

On the other hand, my hive #2 has had hardly any honey on it at all, maybe 3 frames in one super. Brood patterns have been blotchy, even poor.  On occasion, I've seen small hive beetles in amongst the frames of the hive.  Whereas hive #1 probably has had over 100,000 bees in it, hive #2 probably has had no more than about 35,000.  All season, it has appeared as if hive #2 was about two weeks behind hive #1 in development.  Now, they have vastly diverged, and it seems even more weeks difference in development exists.  I knew I would not be taking any honey from hive #2.  And, I probably should have re-queened it long ago.

Each year, I find that once you do remove honey from your hive, the whole dynamic of the hive changes.  Pests are suddenly everywhere.  Small hive beetles and mites on the inside, and opportunists like European hornets, ants, paper wasps and yellow jackets on the outside. Drones have built up.  The queen seems stressed.  Robber bees from other nearby hives suddenly appear. There is no nectar flow anymore and between the heat and drought, the attitude of the bees from August on is much more aggressive. You are much more likely to be stung.  You need smoke, and often lots of it, and you need to wear your beesuit.  So, once you take the honey, be forewarned, things will be changing in your hives.

Normally, I would extract honey in early to mid-July.  But, this year, I had lots of commitments that prevented this. So, I finally got to do it in early August after returning from my vacation to the Outer Banks of NC, a most relaxing time!  I pulled out the old equipment, Walt fixed the broken extractor, and we began the task.

Equipment needed:
An extractor- a hand cranked centrifuge that "throws" the honey after being released from the wax comb cells in the frames.
An uncapping knife- (I like heated ones!)- to remove the caps of wax off of the cells to allow honey to be thrown from the frames in the extractor.
A comb scratcher is useful for running over stubborn wax caps on cells to release the honey stored in the cells.
A double sieve for filtering the raw honey from the extractor into a bottling tank.
A bottling tank with a honey gate that allows control of flow for bottling the liquid gold!
And, of course, bottles, lids, and labels.  (These can come later.  Honey may be stored if in an airtight container.  I prefer to go ahead and do the whole process as it can get pretty messy and sticky!)

I purchase almost exclusively from Brushy mountain beefarm beekeeping supplies.  They've never done me wrong and I don't mind giving them a nice sales plug here!  See photo from their setup above.  (Mine looks almost exactly like this.)
Go to:
But, any beekeeping supply distribution warehouse will have what you need.

A few hints for a better extraction...
When you remove the frames from the hive, be sure the queen is not on one of them!!! Typically the queen does not come up into honey supers or walk on them, but this is a good way to lose your queen!  The workers will be present on the frames; so, I use a bee brush to brush off the frames and place the frames into a waiting empty super with a cover to keep these workers out.

You are going to be unpopular with your girls when you do this!  They have worked hard for their honey and are not pleased you are taking it.  They will tend to be a bit aggressive and follow you back to the honey house/kitchen, persistently.

Be sure not to pick frames with eggs, larvae or pupae in them with the honey.  This will make for bad honey, if you extract anything other than the capped honey.  The filter will remove wayward legs, antennae, wings, larger pollen grains, etc. that's fine.  But, larvae and pupae are not desirable in honey.

Be sure to pick frames that are completely capped with white caps and have no open watery nectar cells. Again, the more water, the more likely fermentation and crystallization will occur.  So, choose only frames with completely capped over cells.

Wait for a less humid day if at all possible.  Honey is hygroscopic and absorbs water quickly.  The more water present in honey, the more likely it will crystallize. So, I typically run the AC all night before, and the day of the extraction to help lower the humidity.

I extract in my kitchen and prepare it with everything I'll need first.  Some beekeepers have "honey houses." Make sure all equipment is clean and dry and that this food processing and prep area is clean for what you will be doing. (No pets in the area.)

I like to wear my hair back or in a hair bonnet.  Be sure you are clean, but have a shirt on you don't mind ruining with sticky honey!

Fortunately, honey is a naturally strong antibiotic, and antiviral agent.  So, sterilizing of bottles is not required. This differs from most other canning and preserving food processes.  (Note: never feed honey to infants or children less than 3 years of age.  Botulism spores may be present in some honey; anyone over the age of 3 with an intact digestive system has enzymes able to destroy these spores.  Babies do not, and can get botulism, which can be fatal.)

So, back to my harvest...
I took no honey from hive #2; but, we got close to 30 lbs from hive #1.  Most of it is light amber to almost white in color, indicating it was made from locust flower nectar, some of the best.  Some of it is also a little darker in color,  indicating clover flowers.  It all tastes yummy!

Now, it's time to get busy bottling and fulfilling existing orders, give bottles to neighbors who support the bees and don't mind a neighbor doing this, and get ready for the local upcoming fair in September! (I always set aside three jars to enter into the fair!)

Now the best part of extracting to tell you is that the bees do all of the cleanup of the equipment! You finish the process and then just place the extractor, the sieve, the tank, all of it in front of the hives.  Next day there is not a drop left!  Just be careful as this can encourage robbing and fighting of bees from neighboring beeyards.  It turns out that in addition to the bees cleaning, you will also see all manner of bumble bees, wasps, butterflies and ants assisting in this process, too.  I saw some gorgeous metallic blue spider wasps helping clean up.
(Walt, dear that he is, cleaned my sticky kitchen floor for me the following day!)

EPA press release -New Pesticide Labels Will Better Protect Bees and Other Pollinators

New Pesticide Labels Will Better Protect Bees and Other Pollinators

WASHINGTON – In an ongoing effort to protect bees and other pollinators, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has developed new pesticide labels that prohibit use of some neonicotinoid pesticide products where bees are present.
“Multiple factors play a role in bee colony declines, including pesticides. The Environmental Protection Agency is taking action to protect bees from pesticide exposure and these label changes will further our efforts,” said Jim Jones, assistant administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention.
The new labels will have a bee advisory box and icon with information on routes of exposure and spray drift precautions. Today’s announcement affects products containing the neonicotinoids imidacloprid, dinotefuran, clothianidin and thiamethoxam. The EPA will work with pesticide manufacturers to change labels so that they will meet the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) safety standard.
In May, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and EPA released a comprehensive scientific report on honey bee health, showing scientific consensus that there are a complex set of stressors associated with honey bee declines, including loss of habitat, parasites and disease, genetics, poor nutrition and pesticide exposure.
The agency continues to work with beekeepers, growers, pesticide applicators, pesticide and seed companies, and federal and state agencies to reduce pesticide drift dust and advance best management practices. The EPA recently released new enforcement guidance to federal, state and tribal enforcement officials to enhance investigations of beekill incidents.
More on the EPA’s label changes and pollinator protection efforts:

View the infographic on EPA’s new bee advisory box:

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A World Without Bees, by Bryan Walsh-TIME-Cover Story, August 19, 2013

A World Without Bees, by Bryan Walsh-TIME-Cover Story, August 19, 2013

"If the bee disappears from the surface of the globe, man would have no more than four years to live."
-attributed to Albert Einstein

Please find time to read this well-written, lay article now out on news stands; it is comprehensive in nature covering honey bee biology, behavior, health -CCD and parasites, and pollination concerns. It certainly makes one think about the consequences of a loss of bees (both native and honey bees) to our environment.

Be especially cognizant of the fruits and vegetables listed that are 50% to 100% bee pollinated for crop cultivation (from almonds (100%), apples (90%), asparagus (90%), and blueberries (90%), to Watermelon (65%).  Our menus and plates and diets would be VERY bland without bees in our lives.
You can do something!  Plant bee flowers in your yard and target and only cautiously use backyard pesticides if there are no further alternatives. Ask your local university entomology extension agent or  master gardener or pest management firm for ways to manage backyard pests best, so as not to impact pollinators like bees, both native ones and the honey bee.

(See my previous blogposts regarding bee flowers and native bees.)

Thank you TIME for a great and timely article!

For more by the same author regarding the "bee-pocalypse" check out his blog at

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Purpose of Propolis, crack that is healthy!

Have you ever tried to open a beehive to inspect or retrieve honey when the hive has not been opened in a long while?  It's quite the challenge.  Depending on how long since the last opening, it can be next to impossible to lift a lid or move a frame within a super or even to separate the supers from one another.
When you finally do get your hive tool wedged and pounded in between two supers and really add some leverage (a lot of leverage) suddenly you hear a loud craaaack! And it sounds like something is splintering. The two supers separate.  What was that noise?  That was propolis cracking.

                                                    Photo From Wikipedia

Propolis is nature's glue.  Honeybees make it by taking bits of tree resin and other cellulose material from tree buds and sap flows and chewing on it and adding some salivary materials; they are then able to apply this glue to seal the hive. All open surface edges with openings of 0.3 in (6 mm) or less are sealed. (Larger spaces are of course filled with beeswax.) So any areas where pests or pathogens might try to enter are closed up. Propolising the hive also ensures proper insulation for heating in the winter and cooling in the summer.  All gaps are sealed where air might leak out.  Energy is conserved in heating or cooling of the hive, which can demand a lot of the worker bees attention and efforts of fanning with their wings and vibrating their thoraces.

Propolis appears as a dark rusty color in my hive (but may be colored dependent upon the source from red to green) and is the consistency of thickened glue or chewing gum.  It shows up in heavier quantities when temperatures become more extreme-hot or cold.  So, in MD where I live, it shows up in greater quantities in July, as that's when our temperatures start to approach 100F and drought tends to set in.  Beekeepers must chip it away to be able to move frames easily for viewing and a proper hive inspection.  No matter how often you chip away at it, it will be re-propolised to some extent by the next time you reopen the hive.  So, if you never check your hive, don't expect to be able to get into it easily to inspect or retrieve any honey this time of year.  (Propolis is sticky at and above room temperature, 20 °C (68 °F). At lower temperatures, it becomes hard and very brittle.This time of year, the propolis is a bit more pliable with which to work.)

As with most hive products, propolis is claimed to have beneficial health qualities.  Propolis has a long history of medicinal use, dating back to 350 B.C., the time of Aristotle. Greeks have used propolis for abscesses; Assyrians have used it for healing wounds and tumors; and Egyptians have used it for mummification. It still has many medicinal uses today, although its effectiveness has only been shown for a couple of them.

Natural medicine practitioners use propolis for the relief of various conditions, including inflammations, viral diseases, ulcers, superficial burns or scalds.  Many beekeepers collect it from their hives, wash it and send it in to organic and health food stores where it is made into throat lozenges and chewing gum and 3% propolis containing ointments. The French have long held that these lozenges and gum keep sore throats and canker sores at bay; and throat lozenges of propolis are sold in French pharmacies.  With two small hives, I've not collected my propolis scrapings to send in, but on occasion I suck or chew a little piece if my throat is raw; I like to think it does make a difference.  Hard to know for sure.

Propolis is now believed to:
  1. reinforce the structural stability of the hive;
  2. reduce vibration;
  3. make the hive more defensible by sealing alternate entrances;
  4. prevent diseases and parasites from entering the hive, and to inhibit fungal and bacterial growth.

Some more unusual uses of propolis are as resin for musical instruments and wax for polishing cars and as sealants in endodontic procedures.

Special precautions & warnings:

There isn't enough information to know if propolis is safe. It can cause allergic reactions, particularly in people who are allergic to bees or bee products. Lozenges containing propolis can cause irritation and mouth ulcers.

Pregnancy and breast-feeding:
Not enough is known about the use of propolis during pregnancy and breast-feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.

Some experts believe some chemicals in propolis may make asthma worse. Avoid using propolis if you have asthma.

Don’t use propolis if you are allergic to: bee by-products including honey, conifers, poplars, Peru balsam, and/or salicylates.

Check out for more information on the health related benefits of propolis.