Swarm Prevention and Control

Congratulations if your bees survived the winter. The main honey flow will be upon us in several weeks. To obtain a good honey crop, a honey bee colony must have many bees (about 50, 000). However, a populous colony is also more likely to swarm, leaving you with little or no surplus honey.

Swarming is colony reproduction; all organisms have the urge to reproduce. For a honey bee colony, making more workers is not reproduction. To reproduce, they need to make a new queen; then the colony divides, with one portion getting the old queen and the other having the new queen. This division process is call swarming.

We don’t completely understand the factors that initiate swarming, but crowding of the brood nest and less queen pheromone certainly contribute to the swarming process. Thus, to mitigate swarming, prevent crowding of the brood nest.   A simple procedure is to insert frames of drawn comb into the brood nest (foundation also helps, but use less). Caution: do not insert frames if cold weather is predicted. If the bees cannot maintain 93o F over the entire brood area, brood will chill and die. Repeating this procedure may prevent the development of the swarm urge.

However, many times the bees will decide to swarm despite our best efforts. A queen cup is the beginning of a queen cell usually along the bottom of the comb. An empty queen cup does not indicate swarming will occur. However, once there is an egg or larvae in what was formally a queen cup, it becomes a queen cell, indicating that the colony will swarm. A queen develops more rapidly than a worker, taking only about 16 days to develop from an egg. The egg hatches 3 days after laying, the larvae is fed copiously for 4 days and the queen cell is capped at about 8 days. The prime swarm (one with the old queen) usually departs at about 8 days. Once a queen cell is discovered the colony will swarm in 4 days or less (depending upon the age of the larvae and weather conditions). There are several procedures that usually (but not always) prevent swarming as detailed in the links below. Pick a procedure and bee prepared.

During swarming season (mid-April through May), I suggest that you check your colony for swarm preparation every 7 days. Controlling and preventing swarming, requires a lot of time and effort, but your work will reward you with a large honey crop.

General Information                                                                                           http://www.dave-cushman.net/bee/swarmcontrol.html

Pagden method                                                                          http://barnsleybeekeepers.org.uk/pagden.html



Snelgrove method                                                                    http://barnsleybeekeepers.org.uk/snelgrove.html


Demaree method                                                                 http://barnsleybeekeepers.org.uk/demaree.html


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Feeding Early Spring Protein Supplement

Winter has morphed into Spring almost overnight in the Northeast. What is a honey bee to do when nothing is yet blooming, meaning that fresh pollen for brood rearing is unavailable? Feeding a pollen substitute patty inside the hive is an excellent approach. Several companies sell ready-made patties as well as the soy-based powder with which patties can be made by the beekeeper. See Randy Oliver’s comparative study of several of these products: http://scientificbeekeeping.com/a-comparative-test-of-the-pollen-sub/

At the American Beekeeping Federation meeting in January, Randy also spoke about bulk feeding Ultra Bee powder to bees. Below is a picture of my honey bees gathering Ultra Bee from a bulk feeder outside the hive. Note that the Ultra Bee is picked up by hairs on the bees’ body, and the bees pack it into their pollen baskets, just as the bees do with pollen.

Feeding Ultra Bee powder in early March

Protein powder is packed into pollen baskets just like real pollen

Posted in beekeeping advice, beekeeping education, feeding honeybees, pennsylvania

EPA Registers Oxalic Acid to Combat Varroa Mites in Bees

EPA is registering a new miticide, oxalic acid, to combat the devastating effects of the Varroa mite on honey bee colonies. Oxalic acid is currently registered for this use in Canada and Europe. Recognizing beekeepers’ need for additional registered tools to combat the Varroa mite in U.S. honey bee colonies, the EPA collaborated with the U.S. Department of Agricultureon the registration.

Consistent with President Obama’s 2014 initiative on pollinator health, which instructed the EPA to expedite review of registration applications for new products targeting pests harmful to pollinators, OPP expedited the review of the application. EPA was able to expedite its evaluation in part due to a NAFTA “work share” agreement, which allowed Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency to share their data reviews with EPA risk assessors and risk managers. Oxalic acid was registered in Canada for in-hive control of Varroa mites in 2010. EPA also had an established database of oxalic acid studies from its previous registration as an antimicrobial pesticide.

EPA used the existing data and information from PMRA, including updated reviews of toxicity, dietary exposure, environmental fate and transport, and product chemistry data. After a thorough evaluation of all the data, EPA concurred with the conclusions and registration decision made by our Canadian colleagues.

Varroa mites are parasites that feed on developing bees leading to brood mortality and reduced lifespan of worker bees. They also transmit numerous honeybee viruses. The health of a colony can be critically damaged by an infestation of Varroa mites. If left untreated, the colony will likelydie.

More information on this regulatory action can be found at www.regulations.gov in Docket ID: EPA-HQ-OPP-2015-0043.

Find out about other EPA efforts to address pollinator loss: http://www2.epa.gov/pollinator-protection.

Posted in beekeeping education

Early winter hive check

This weekend, December 20-22, promises to bring a welcome warmer weather break for Southeastern Pennsylvania honey bees and an opportunity for beekeepers to assess hive stores.  Choose the warmest part of the day and check to see if your bees are flying.   If the temperature is 50 F or above, your bees should be flying.  If there is no flight activity, take a brief peek into the hive to see if the bees are still alive.

Now is also a good time to check your hive’s stores.  I use the lift test: from the back of the hive, grasp the bottom and lift.  If the hive is heavy and your bees are flying, all is well.  Check again at the next warm spell.  If the hive is light, consider feeding fondant or sugar (the latter, using the mount camp method.  Google “mountain camp bee feeding” or go to http://www.honeybeesuite.com/mountain-camp-feeding/).

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Emergency late summer/pre-fall bloom feeding

Please check your bees to determine if they required feeding.  In some locations there are NO flowers in bloom and bees are extremely low on stores.  Several individuals have told me that their bees are on the verge of starving.  If  your bees require feeding, use only pure table sugar prepared by mixing in the ratio of 1 pound of sugar plus 1 pint of water.  Feeding pollen substitute may also be required.

Hopefully, fall flowers will begin to bloom shortly and provide our bees with their required winter stores.

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Queenless hive?

Queenless hive? Don’t panic!  How can you know if your colony is queenless?

After a colony has swarmed, many times beekeepers ‘feel’ that their colony may be queenless because they see no eggs or young larvae.  Before exploring the question of how to tell if a colony is queenless, a review of swarming and the queen rearing process is warranted.    The first indication of swarm preparations that the beekeeper usually detects is the formation of queen cells. The prime swarm, consisting of the hive’s current queen and perhaps 60% of the workers, usually departs shortly after the first queen cell is sealed.  A queen cell is sealed about 8 days after an egg is laid in the queen cup.  Since a queen requires about 16 days to go from egg to adult, the virgin queen will emerge about 8 days after the prime swarm departs.  During this time, all the eggs laid by the previous queen will hatch and most of the worker larvae will be sealed, so that little uncapped brood will be observed.  Once the new queen emerges from her cell, she requires 7 to 8 days to become sexually mature (range 6 to 13 days).  Her mating flights occur over a period of 1 or 2 days.  Following mating, the queen requires several more days before she begins laying eggs.  Dr. Caron observed that only 2% of queens began laying within 1 day of mating and 15% of queens require 5 or more days to commence egg laying activities.  Russian queens may take even longer to begin egg laying.

Thus, following a swarm, there will be a long period during which the beekeeper will see no eggs.  When should eggs be expected?  Let’s add up all the days: 8 days until the queen emerges from her cell, 7 to 8 days until mating, plus 5 days till egg laying, for a total of 20 + days.  Thus, after a swarm you should wait 3 weeks before you consider that your hive is indeed queenless.  Wait even longer if you have Russian bees.  NOTE: never kill sealed swarm queen cells unless you are certain that the old queen is still in the hive.  If you kill swarm queen cells after the swarm has left, there is a strong possibility that your colony will not have young larvae to make additional queen cells.  In that case, your colony will be queenless.  An additional source of a queenless colony is the rare accident of nature in which the queen fails to return to her hive after her mating flight.

Now back to our main question.  A simple test for determining if your colony is queenless, is to place a frame containing eggs and young larvae into your colony.  If the colony is indeed queenless, it can raise a queen from the young larvae.   A few days after you insert the frame of eggs and young larvae, a queenless colony will be building queen cells.  If the colony has a virgin queen or a mated queen that has not yet begun to lay, it will not make queen cells. 

However, things can go wrong so that your colony is actually queenless.  If a colony is queenless for some time after all the brood has emerged, some workers become laying workers.  Laying workers are characterized by laying multiple eggs per cell or eggs that are not at the bottom of the cell.  Additional evidence of laying workers is that the eggs laid in worker comb are capped with the dome shaped caps of drone brood.  Normally, the queen and the brood produce pheromones that reduce egg laying by worker bees.  However, in the absence of a queen and brood, some workers will begin laying eggs and are known as laying workers.  Since workers are physically incapable of mating, all their eggs will be unfertilized, developing into drones.   A colony with laying workers is very difficult to requeen because the laying workers begin to produce pheromones characteristic of a queen, preventing the colony from accepting a new queen.  The best thing to do with a colony with laying workers is to combine (newspaper method) the laying worker colony with a strong queen right colony.  If you want to try to rescue the laying worker colony, it is recommended that one or two frames containing eggs and young larvae be placed in the colony at weekly intervals until the colony starts to rear emergency queen cells.  Once queen cells are observed, it is safe to try to introduce a new queen.

In summary, bees generally know how to manage their own affairs.  Following a swarm, a virgin queen emerges from her cell, destroys her sisters, mates and subsequently becomes the new queen mother.  This process takes 3 weeks or longer; during this time no eggs will be seen in the colony.  Bee patient!  If you want to be sure that your colony has a queen or the capacity to produce a queen, add a frame containing eggs at weekly intervals until the new queen begins laying.

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Bumble bee kill in Oregon: neonic Safari determined as cause of 50,000 deaths

Spraying of the neonicotinoid Safari has been determined to be the cause of the largest  bumble bee kill ever documented in the US.  55 flowering lindens were sprayed to rid the trees of aphids.


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