Bees On Corn


This morning the bees flew heavily on flowering corn. I’m sure they were happy for the EU ban on treating seeds with neonics. It would have been no good for the colony with beebread made of pollen from corn grown from treated seed. How much bad that makes is discussed. It can’t do good though, especially together with a lot of other stress factor for the bees.

Reading the hardboard

Board colony

One of the most important parts in my management system has become a simple thin hardboard in front of the entrance. The first thing I do when I come to an apiary is going reading them. They give a lot of info, important for eventual actions.

If the hardboard is empty of  dead bees, litter etc – it’s the best. Very often you find a few dead worker bees there. It seems this is of no concern.

If you find a dead queen there, the old one or a virgin, you know the hive is shifting its queen, with or without swarming. Even if the colony has had no problems with mites or viruses for a short time with the last of capped brood, you can find a few wingless bees. It seems in such a circumstance it’s of no big concern. But be careful and watch the colony carefully for eventual thymol treatment.

Board Queen etc A dead queen! Drones, some workers and one old worker pupa (to the right).

If you find a lot of dead bees. Even without wingless bees among them, I consider it to be showing the bees are fighting something. Maybe another virus than DWV.

If the colony has a lot of drones maybe due to a lot drone comb, they might start throwing them out in the middle of the season, or at least some of them. I’m not sure  sometimes how to interpret this. Sometimes it seems the colony has shifted its queen and now it’s laying and the bees have no need for many drones.

When you see white parts or whole drone pupae, the bees most probably are fighting varroa, throwing out pupae with mites. And this is a very good sign actually. Varroa mites should be a drone parasite and not a workerbee parasite. And the bees should identify them in drone brood and clean those cells with mites (that have reproducedand and have offspring) – VSH in drone brood, or just cleaning out drone brood with mites.

Board 2 Drone pupae, quite some. This colony hasn’t needed any thymol, yet anyway. And given a good crop.

The next step that I usually see among my bees after seeing drone pupae on the hardboard is seeing wingless drones there. No big concern at this stage. If the reinvasion is big, if there are some colonies not fighting the mite very well they will spread many mites to other colonies. For some colonies that may mean they will need help in fighting the mites.

Next step among my bees may be seeing young grey bees walking on the hardboard, but with ok wings. Maybe another virus than DWV. And the next step wingless bees, one or two to begin with.

Now the colony gets one or two pieces of dishcloth with thymol (5 grams each), but not immediately before harvesting honey. I take away honey first. If there will be more than 14 days to harvesting they get thymol. It’s more important to have healthy bees that pollinate well, than some more thymol in the honey you can’t taste and is of no problem for health for anyone – and a dying colony. I know out of experience.

The breeder queens have not tasted any thymol for at least one year. My stock is making progress.

Harvesting with all the flavor

Larry Garret in Indiana is a beekeeper of art. Look at his harvesting. His honey is worth double the price. He writes to me:

I typically begin harvesting the first honey in early June and continue to harvest each week through July. My honey is harvested from foundationless natural comb newly drawn by the bees each season. Frequent small batch harvests allow me to capture the subtle changes in appearance and flavor of the honey throughout the season. Each comb of fully capped honey is individually selected at the optimal time for harvest. 

My crush and stain harvests are done in small batches of three to five kilograms. I use a stainless steel bucket, a large knife, a food grade plastic bucket, and a food grade straining bag. Each batch takes about 10 minutes to prepare and I usually do three to five batches each harvest day. I allow the honey to drain overnight before pouring into glass jars. I process the wax in a solar wax melter.

My methods are more time consuming but yield the highest quality of raw natural honey.

Larry comb Foundationless combs harvested 

Larry crush1Larry crush2Larry crush3Larry crush4Larry crush5Larry crush6Larry wax The wax is processed in solar wax melter

Larry honey's  Subtle changes in appearance of honey harvested from the same hive.

Swarm from a tree


Last year my friend had a call in July about a swarm that had come from a big old tree. The cavity couldn’t bee very big. And the swarm was not big.

But the bees in the tree survived the winter and was thriving this year too.

The swarm was last year strengthened with a couple of brood frames from his other colonies. It was not treated against varroa last year. It survived winter well. This year it was used as his other colonies to produce splits for sale. A couple of weeks ago he was too curious about the amount of mites in the colony so he gave it 15 grams of thymol and collected the downfall. After a week 150 mites. Under the circumstamces it’s not much at all. The bees must have some kind of trait that keeps down the number. He has had thousands of mites falling in a few odd colonies in earlier years with such a treatment – as comparison. Normally he just give his colonies 15 grams of thymol, but in the middle of August. As the only treatment in a year. He has Elgon bees and uses 4.9 mm cellsize. His winterlosses is always below 5%.

Next year he plans to breed from this colony as it is a very nice one.

MT-colony conclusion

I have shared the performance of this colony which had almost a box of plastic small cell frames and natural positioning of these frames (as the uppermost broodbox). Which also had a tough experience with mice living in the bottom box during winter.

It gave top crop the first crop of winter rape, dandelions and some raspberry. It showed no wingless bees this year early on as it did last year. But it had an old queen. So the colony decided to shift it’s queen and did. Now they showed a few wingless bees. I concluded that was due to the declining amount of open brood to enter for the mites, son inte last brood of the old queen there was enough concentration of mites to develop some wingless bees. But to be consistent with my way of working I gave the colony 9 grams (two pieces) of thymol dish pieces. Next time no wingless bees.

My impression is that the colony is not performing less good with plastic small cell and natural positioning. Thus the conclusion is that plastic small cell frames are not negative for the bees, neither what I call natural positioning. If any of these configurations are positive is difficult to say. An overall smaller mite pressure in the apiary and the area could be the explanation. Due to epigenetic changes that have improved the bees, or/and conventional selection has done its job with the genepool in the apiary/area. Also plastic small cell frames and natural positioning may have contributed. At least plastic small cell may have good influence as there are more cells for each comb, thus faster buildup.

First crop from the multitest colony

Last year I gave almost a whole box of plastic frames 4.95 mm cellsize with natural positioning,

This colony was a very nice colony, but needed some thymol as it came up with some wingless bees. It gave an average crop though. It wintered with the plastic in natural positioning as the upper third box full of honey. This was one of the few colonies I forgot to give the entrance reducer before winter so mice had created havoc in the bottom box. This seemed not to have set back the colony very much, unusual I would say. I thought about that:

March 30 this year it looked very nice,

MT-colony combs In the uppermost super the combs were capped almost to the sides.

In June I harvested the first crop. It gave the highest crop in that apiary, together with one other colony, mostly from winter rape and dandelions. Both difficult crops if you wait too long before harvesting. They both form crystals quickly and have a very low water content making the honey viscous. All four boxes above the excluder was harvested – 60 kg (132 pounds). No signs of varroa or virus, no wingless bees and no thymol given. Out of 9 colonies in that apiary 6 have needed some thymol, up till now.

MT-colony board All the four supers above the excluder were harvested

A very good sign is the relatively clean piece of hardboard (0.5×0.5 meter, 20×20 inch) in front of the colony. Reading the hardboard is very informative about what’s happening in the colony. A few cleaned out drone pupae, a few dead drones and worker bees.

The queen of the wall

Five days after I hived the swarm from the wall I checked it. I placed it about three km from the wall where it originated, to help form the ”stock of the region”. It wasn’t a very big swarm, but it will make it well for winter.

Swarm queenSwarm drone

It had placed itself on the foundations I had supplied them with and drawn quite some combs, partially filld them with honey and the queen had layed eggs in four or five shallows. A big queen, small drone and quite small workers.

Swarm house The bees have occupied the upper right corner and round the corner on the other side. There the original entrance was.

The wall colony is living in one of the upper corners of the house, for more than 10 years. Now the nearest other bees are 3 km away. 10 years ago 6-7 km.

Swarm propolis The entrance just below the window to the left. Below the bees have sealed cracks with propolis.


Three years ago the owners tried to tighten up the entrance between a couple of boards in the oyter wall of the house. After some time the bees had made a new entrance around the corner. Some cracks in the wall the bees have sealed with propolis.

Swarm entrance The bees are entering in the upper part of the opening and leaving at the bottom of it.

The bees enter the upper part of the entrance and leave from the lower part.