Saturday, May 30, 2009

Part 1 - OBA Tech Team's Bee Integrated Pest Management Program

The course was called the Integrated Pest Management Program and it covered all the different ways to care for your bees during the year.

Last Sunday I drove to Guelph, Ontario, so that I could participate in a one day training course put on by the Ontario Bee Association's Tech Team.

This wasn't an introduction to beekeeping course, although they teach that as well. The focus of this course was on how to properly monitor your hives for pests and diseases and how to properly treat them.

We had perfect weather and it was a wonderful day, well worth the 1.5 drive. The training involved classroom time and two sessions out in the bee yard, located in a large apple orchard.

Of course, a great emphasis was put on Monitoring your hives so that you know what's going on in the bee yard and so that any problems can be dealt with before they grow worse.

Monitoring for Nosema:
Nosema samples can be sent to a lab to determine if your hives have Nosema apis or Nosema ceranae.

Nosema apis often shows itself as a dysentery with bees pooping inside the hive or down the outside front of the hive, disjointed wings and bees crawling in front of the hive. With Nosema cerane there are no visible signs to tell if bees have it.

The test sample will be of the field bees returning to the hive.

Take a glass jar and fill it with about 1/4 cup of 70% isophroyl alcohol (available at drug stores). It is important to collect only field bees for this test. Collect the returning bees from the front of the hive.

The bees are then shipped to a lab (two in Ontario can do this for approx $8.00 per sample) which will analyze them for nosema.

All jars should always be labeled with: Name, Date, Yard and Colony, especially if you have multiple bee hives and yards.

Each sample jar for the lab should have 30 bees for a colony sample or 10 bees per hive for a yard sampling. The alcohol kills the bees instantly. The alcohol can then be poured off and the sample put in a zip lock bag for mailing - don't send alcohol through the mail.

To help with collecting the adult field bees from the front of the hive, the Tech Team came up with a really clever adaptation of a dust buster by adding plumbing parts.

It sucks up bees very safely and efficiently. Their design is available and can be downloaded from the OBA web site at:

Read more about how to treat bees for Nosema at the Ontario Bee Associations website at:

The registered treatment for Nosema is Fumigilin B - see Part 2 of this article to be posted in the near future.

Various Methods to Monitor for Varroa:

Screened Bottom Board with Sticky Trap:

It's recommended to place a Varroa Mite Trap under the deep hive box for the entire spring and summer.
The trap should be removed for winter.

There are several different designs but the main concept is that #8 wire hardware cloth of either galvanic metal or stainless steel is stapled to a wooden frame that sits under the hive, often on top of the bottom board. Underneath the mesh is a tray, usually a cafeteria style tray, with a sticky paper.

(Pictured here is the Mesh screen placed on top of a reversed bottom board. The bottom board is reversed so there is no second gap at the front that will confuse the bees).

Note too that the tilt of the hive will then need to be changed to backwards so that water can drain off the hive and not sit inside.

How it works:
Any mites that fall off bees and fall to the bottom of the hive will fall through the wire mesh. The mesh is large enough to allow the mite to fall through but too small for the bees to go through.

To stop the mites from crawling back up the hive through the mesh and hitching onto a bee again, a sticky trap is set up under the wire mesh frame so that the mite sticks to it and dies.

(Typically there should not be dead bees on the sticky trap as there are in this photo - these bees got in through a gap in the back of this hive).

The Sticky trap is so simple to make - a paper file folder opened flat and placed under the screen.

Draw grid lines on the folder so that you can count the number of Varroa that fall on the grid. To make the folder sticky so that it holds onto the mite coat it with a thin layer of either Vaseoline or Crisco shortening.

The circle mark on the photo marks the Varroa Mite.

The mites are monitored, by doing what's called a "drop count" by counting the number of mites that fall in the grid area in a 24 hour period of time (or leave it 3 days and divide the count by 3).

Up to 3 mites in a 24 hour period is considered a tolerable level. Anything above that it is recommended to treat the hive.

If Varroa Mites are found on adult bees at any time that means a heavy infestation.

Reports have said that by using the sticky trap method alone, 15 to 20% of mites can be removed from the hive.

When you think about how many off spring just one mite can produce, this is a substantial reduction.

Plans to make your own Varroa Mite trap can be downloaded from the OBA website at:

Using Drone Traps for Varroa Mites
Drone traps are another way to reduce mite infestations. The Varroa Mite prefers to raise its babies in drone cells. Drones pupae are larger than worker bee pupae and they take 24 days to hatch which is a longer incubation than a worker which is 21 days.

It's believed that this extra time is what the Varroa likes to take advantage of.

Plastic foundation (here pictured coloured in lime green) is now available from bee suppliers. These frames can be inserted, one per deep, into the hive box. It is very important to count the days that the frame is in the hive so as to be certain to remove it before the drones and the Varroa babies hatch. The frame is removed after 28 days (allowing 4 days for egg, larva, pupa and capping of the cell). This time frame is prior to the drones hatching.

You can use a capping scraper to remove approximately 100 drones to do a visual check for Varroa Mites. 1 or 2 mites per 100 drone pupae is okay.

The frame can be stripped clean and the contents of comb, dead drone pupae is destroyed. Be certain to remove it from the bee yard so that bees cannot fly to it and accidentally pick up and living varroa. Once everything is removed, the frame can be returned to the hive. The bees will rebuild the drone comb and the process is repeated again, as well as counting the days to hatching.

Another way to work with the drone trap is to freeze it. Then the frame full of dead drones and Varroa can be put back in the hive to be cleaned by the bees. The advantage with this method is that the bees won't have to rebuild the comb, the downside is that they will have to clean up the cells, removing the dead bodies.

I feel sorry for the boys, but they are sacrificing themselves for the good of the whole hive!

Monitoring Varroa with the Sugar Shake

This test is done of nurse bees shaken off frames from the hive.

Be sure to find the queen before shaking frames into a plastic bin.

Collect 1/4 cup (150 bees) of these nurse bees and put them in a jar with a modified lid.

Modify the lid by cutting a circle out of the top and adding window screening.

Press 1 tablespoon of icing sugar through the screening onto the bees.

Lightly shake the jar to spread the sugar over the bees. Then empty the contents onto a flat surface.

The bees will be completely white. The powder sugar interferes with the Varroa Mite's ability to cling to the hairs of the bee and they fall off.

Count the number of Varroa seen in the drop. Be sure to record your results.

I originally preferred this method when reading about it because it didn't kill the bees but after seeing it done, the bees were really struggling to breathe. It appeared their spiracles were completely clogged with the powder. They could barely move and to me it seemed to be torture for them, causing a prolonged or slower death - most did not survive the test. I think the ether roll or alcohol jar would be a more effective method and a quicker more merciful death for the bees.

Icing sugar also has some cornstarch in it which the bees can't digest so a confectioner's pure sugar powder would be better to use if doing this test.

Varroa Ether Roll:

This method is handy to do in the bee yard for a quick spot check of Varroa Mite levels.

This test is done on nurse bees shaken from brood frames into tubs.

Check your hive for the frame with the queen and capture the queen and put her in a queen cage.

Take 2 or 3 frames and shake the frames into a plastic tub.

Scoop 1/4 cup (150 bees) bees from the tub into a jar. Open the lid slightly and quickly release two squirts of Ether (Starter Fluid).

Shake the jar. It kills the bees instantly.

Place your finger on the side of the jar as a marker and roll the jar one cycle.

Any Varroa Mites that have fallen off the bees will be stuck to the sides of the jar.

Record the numbers in your records.

Varroa Alcohol in Jar Test:

This test is of nurse bees shaken off into a tub from the frames. First be sure that the queen is not on the frames being shaken.

Take 1/4 cup of bees (150 bees) and place them into a jar in which there is approximately 1/4 cup of 70% isophyrol alcohol (avilable at drug stores). Shake the jar vigorously for 3 minutes.

Once the bees are dead, pour off the entire contents into a white plastic tub. The white plastic helps to make the dark circular Varroa Mites show up better. The Varroa Mites that will have fallen off the bees will fall to the bottom of the tub.

For more info on dealing with Varroa Mites, visit the OBA's website at:

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Bless this Mess!

It feels like a pregnancy. Any day the new 'baby' (bee hives) will be due and just like an expectant parent, I'm racking my brain trying to think if I have everything ready.

I've turned my living room into a construction zone and it's a blessed mess :)

I painted the deep hive boxes, I've put together and painted most of the honey supers.

I've debated over whether I should paint the honey supers yummy yellow, peridot green or hot pink. I still haven't decided on that one yet.

Which colour is someone less likely to steal? Shouldn't that be a consideration as well as trying to choose a fairly light colour?

I've bought Benadryl for stings, notebooks to keep records and I'm making a list for a repair kit/field kit. If anyone out there has experience with beekeeping, I'd appreciate some comments on what items you would recommend to put in a field kit when heading into the bee yard.

I've tried to carefully nail the honey super frames together and added in the permadent foundation.

(Permadent is a plastic foundation imprinted with a cell pattern that bees will follow and build up their honeycomb on).

I've also glued my deep frames together for the brood box and tried to do all the nailing left handed (the broken right arm is healing but I can only managed light duties right handed).

The hammering wasn't going so well because my accuracy wasn't precise enough so I've had to set that one aside for a few days. Then I took it up again because I wanted to get it done.

My success can be summed up in one word: OUCH!
I would have sworn very loudly at the time I caught my finger with the hammer except my mouth was full of nails.

This hurts me because I consider myself to be a good hammerer, using either the left or right hand. Usually I do switch back and forth when nailing, but my left hand/arm has done a double portion of work lately and I think it was a bit of muscle fatigue.

I'm still waiting for delivery of two Varroa Mite traps which are on back order. I hope they arrive this week.

The traps will sit on top of my bottom boards and the stainless steel screening will allow any mites that fall off the bees to fall through the screening and get stuck on the sticky paper below. The screening is too small for a bee to pass through and get stuck.

Once the Varroa Mite traps arrive, I think maybe, just maybe, I might have everything I need to start beekeeping, except of course the bees themselves.

Today I emailed my supplier to advise I'm ready to pick up 2 nucs. So while I wait for my nucs (nucleas bee hives - small starter hives) to arrive I'll be carting my equipment out to the bee yard and getting things prepared there.

This is very exciting! Just think, in a matter of days it will be official: I will be a real beekeeper!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Just Bee-lieve!!!

I think this might actually happen.... I was having a hard time believing that it would happen. But despite broken bones and various other obstacles it is happening!

Thank God for Fathers, eh! Dad offered to help me set up my skids and cement blocks out in the swamp, now called the Bee Yard. (I'm not sure if it classifies as a bee yard with only 2 hives, but it's a start) and it looks like Dad will also become a beekeeper, so even better!

It wasn't so simple as just finding free skids (Thanks Home Hardware) and buying some cement blocks, we also had to clear the trail back about 200 yards from the road so we could easily navigate to the yard.

There were fallen trees that blocked the trail (a deer path) and it would be too hard to get the wheelbarrow over them but then I had Dad to help me. He brought his chain saw and after quite a few pulls on the cord it finally powered on and we were in business.

I used the bull cutters to cut away smaller branches and brambles - trying to do this with my left hand and various other body parts, excluding the right hand. But we got it done!

While we worked I noticed a lot of bumble bees working the area so I think my bees will be happy with the place. There's skunk cabbage, tons of trilliums, dandelions, pussy willows, cedars, hard wood trees, wild strawberries and wild raspberries. As well, there are farms all around the swamp and fields of alfalpha.

The bees are on order for June and this weekend I'll be in Guelph, Ontario attending the Integrated Bee Management Program course. It's teaching how to take care of your bees once you've got them - I'll report on that later. I'm just glad my arm is healed enough that I can write to take notes.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Little Bend in the Road

Things have really slowed down. Slow not by choice but because the healing process has to be allowed to take place. This has turned into a very unexpected and interesting bend in my road.

The fracture is in the radial head - the inside bone that goes up the arm. 40% of the top part is cracked and slipped down. But reports are good that it's healing well. And each day it's a little less painful.

It was really the third day when I finally mentally complied and gave up my spring plans--except for the honey bees that is.

It was really hard to accept that my plans were being changed for me, like it or not. So, no gardening this spring--it's just too hard to do it properly with one arm, and the left at that.

So I took some time on nice days to sit on the swing and read and I made a mental shift to this thing called "relaxation". I hadn't done that for so long I realized I had forgetten how.

So somehow this broken arm has turned into a kind of gift. It slowed me down. I realize now that I needed to slow down a little. Yes, I stopped to view the flowers, but I wasn't hanging around long enough to enjoy their fragrance. A big important part of life - the enjoying it part - was getting away from me. The garden was getting away from me too.

It's happened before. Years ago there were busy or difficult springs and I didn't get in the garden and you know what? It survived without me. Unlike grass which demands to be cut, the garden can often forgive you if you can't get in it.I rely heavily on wood chips to keep weeds down and I adopt the concept that the more tightly packed the plants, the less weeds will grow.
On those occasions when I culled plants to create space I found weeds would quickly move in, despite the wood chips. I do still cull plants but not too severely.I feel I've now refocused and I'm looking forward to more relaxing days. Of course it's always easier to enjoy when the weather is great.

The garden is exploding this time of year. It rained the other night and I swear the next morning all the plants had grown more than an inch!
All that life and energy in the plants is just bursting to be set free.

It's a wonderful time of year. I think spring is my favourite time. Why? I believe it's seeing the beauty come up from all the deadness, seeing life spring forth from what looks so utterly dead and hopeless.

I took photos of the front yard every few days to try to create a time lapse effect. I planned on doing a slide show but that got interrupted with the arm thing, but I did manage a few photos.

In early spring the garden is scary. There's no better word for it - it's just ugly. People walk by and those who are new to seeing it look digusted. It looks like a trash heap. But what they don't know is that there's life there, under the surface and it's about to come forth.
In fact, I always thought that if I could take a couple months off work, I'd choose to be off in May and June.

That's when the garden is the most fun as it takes off and plants bloom.

You can also enjoy the outdoors then too because it isn't too hot yet.I always tour the garden every day to see what new plants are blooming.

I especially love watching poppies and peonies flowers crack open from their buds.

At the moment, bleeding hearts, Siberian Bulgoss, Candy Tuft, phlox and a few irises are in bloom along with tulips.

The Kings Solomon's seal are in bloom but the bells haven't opened up yet. I've been watching the bumble bees as they try to get inside. The weather's been cold the last couple days too - too cold for honey bees I think.

I consider my garden to be a cottage garden. My interpretation of that is that people take their divided plants to their cottage where they plant them and then they're ignored after that and allowed to grow naturally. My garden is much like that. Not a lot of control, just a bit of tweaking here and there. Sometimes I think it looks like a tossed salad.

I've put off getting my honey bees until June which will give me a couple more precious weeks to heal.

Let's hope the sun comes out soon so I can watch the bees in my garden while I'm relaxing on my swing.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Plan Bee

Things are ramping up. It may be gradual but we're heading in the right direction.
This is the truck that I can't drive at the moment.
It's been very frustrating. The problem is my broken right arm and a standard transmission--not a good mix at the moment.
But the arm is improving, slowly.
Surgery isn't recommended so I'm happy to give that a pass.
I do worry some about long term use and joint problems, but for now it's a little less painful each day and that's very encouraging.
I still need to put frames together so I haven't tried that yet.
I won't push the arm too quickly... just imaging the vibrations on a cracked bone from hammering is enough to make me hesitate.
Dad offered to help and he made arrangements to get some free skids from Home Hardware.
So now I had a driver for that truck to get the skids.
The day before, while touring my garden I came across a bumble bee. She was nestled down inside the fallen leaves, keeping warm.
It was a cool day with sunshine but there was a cold breeze. The bee was taking advantage of the sun's heat trapped in the leaves. Later in the day it would warm up enough to fly and forage.
The rest of our plans for now are to get some cinder blocks to set the skids on. I still need a few supplies such as mite traps for the bottom of each hive and I'll order those in the next few days.
I've placed my order for two nuc hives. I'm just not sure if the delivery will be late May or early June.
Broken bones or not, Plan Bees progresses!