Beekeeping is a serious matter

Beekeeping is a very important occupation – for commercials and hobbyists. When you’re a beekeeper you contribute to nature and society’s continued existence.

There is a difference of attitude in general to beekeeping on the different sides of the Atlantic. In northern Europe it’s a very serious matter – not only to take part in beekeeping, but also to do it right – and not wrong. Hot discussions are often taking place what are the right and wrong ways of working the bees. Mind you if you are doing it the wrong way! You have to move down a step at the dinner table of the fellowship of beekeepers! You may be blamed for problems in beekeeping.

Remember – you are brave if you dare to think and do things your own way!

In America you often find a more relaxed attitude. Yes – it’s important to do it the right way, but most important is to keep bees at all. Yes, make an effort to do it the right way. But if you do it wrong, you’re my friend anyway. Let’s discuss how to make it better the next time. You keep your place at the dinner table.

Be encouraged to find new and maybe better ways in beekeeping wherever you live!

Let’s a have meal together when we meet.

Jante and The Involuntary Adviser

“It is better to listen to a string, which burst,
than never to span an arc.”
Verner von Heidenstam (Swedish poet), 1902, Invocation and Pledge

 

Jante verbalize the unwritten law that says that you can not stand up and think that you are better than others in some way. It’s a fictional law of a fictional Danish town in a novel by Aksel Sandemose in the book En flykting korsar sitt spår (A refugee crosses his tracks) (1933). The closest phenomenon in the English-speaking world is what is called The tall poppy syndrome.

 Jante
1  You shall not think you are something.
2  You shall not think you’re as good as we are.
3  You shall not think that you are wiser than we are.
4  You shall not fool yourself into thinking you’re better than us.
5  You shall not think that you know more than we do.
6  You shall not think that you are more important than we are.
7  You shall not think that you are good at anything.
8  You shall not laugh at us.
9  You shall not think that someone cares about you.
10 You shall not think that you can learn us anything.
Jante Criminal Code
11 Don’t you think we know something about you?

 

Commitment
Commitment can be dangerous as it can lead to knowledge that leads to the development leading to change. If those in charge do not control the course of events. They need control of change not to risk losing control of the situation – losing control over others, over money, over development. If you have influence and power you may want to keep it. That’s when you oppose those who get involved – rather than encourage, assist and perhaps cooperate.

 

Do nothing
If you don’t do anything you don’t risk standing out and you don’t risk falling into disfavor with those who want to have control. But you can never do anything good, increase knowledge and contribute to development.

 

Do something
If you do something you risk making mistakes. A mistake, may learn you important things. And you can get ideas about how to do instead. If you do something good and it’s new, you learn something new, and also others do that, perhaps leading development forward.

 

 

2008, varroa and viruses

In spring of 2008, I had been told not to give advice to beekeepers how to combat the varroa mite. This is because I allegedly gave dangerous advice that caused beekeepers to lose their bees. The one who told me this, I had been told treated against Varroa mites only once a year trickling with oxalic acid solution in November and calculated to have 30% winter losses.

Shortly afterwards a desperate beekeeper called me in late April. He actually sought someone else he could not get through to. He asked for advice on how he would do to save his eight colonies from dying as they all showed wingless bees in different amounts. It is considered by some that a bee colony showing wingless bees is doomed to die and can not be saved. So what should I do? I was told not to give advice. But should I tell the person seeking help to let the bees die, or should I give the best advice I could? Deny a needy help, I could not.

– The mildest treatment against the already by viruses weakened bees, are probably in this case Apistan, I said, but you may not want to use that. (The mites had just arrived there and built a population and Apistan had never been used before.)

– No, said the beekeeper from east central Sweden.

– To treat these highly viruses weakened bees with acid is to lead them into death, I said. Oxalic acid could possibly have been used in November, but only really if one earlier in July/August had checked the colonies concerning the amount of mites and treated with something then if needed, so they are not weakened when Oxalic treatment comes in November/December.

– Do you know what Apiguard is? I asked.

– No, he replied, and did not know what Thymol was either.

– The best advice I can give you is to get in touch with Joel Svensson’s Bee Equipements and ask them to help you get Apiguard. Read the packaging how to use it, and apply it as soon as you can. Thymol, I think is mildest for the bees in this case.

In September the same year the beekeeper called med and thanked me for I had helped him. All his bee colonies had survived, even the most affected and vulnerable. He had also made a few splits and wintered 13 colonies.

I asked him how long time Apiguard was in the hives.

– All summer, he replied.

– Huh, I cried, but did you harvest any honey then?

– Oh yeah, was the answer.

– But didn’t the honey taste thymol, I asked.

– No, he replied.

Hmm, could it be possible? Maybe yes, maybe no. Well, you should not and need not to use Apiguard as this beekeeper did. But the most positive thing with this beekeeper was that the colonies recovered and lived. And the honey was safe to eat whether it tasted thymol or not. It was probably mostly this beekeeper and his family who ate the honey that year I believe. He certainly hadn’t a bumper crop.

The bees pollinated and did what they should. And the beekeeper was happy.

Food control again, soon increase

A month ago I did the first food control after winter. Spring was then still cold then in the beginning of March. A number of dead colonies were brought home. I divided the combs in three groups, food combs, empty combs still usable and combs to recycle the wax from.

Some colonies needed food combs. Those I had taken in autumn from colonies with more than they needed and space that could be decreased by taking out a few outer combs in the top box and inserting insulation “dummy” combs.

Now a month later I did a second food check. Some colonies needed food. A few more were dead. Another few will probably die in a couple of weeks. The winter losses will arrive at about 10 %. Previous years the winter losses have been about 15 %. Those years about 30 % of the survivors barely survived and gave no crop. And they got their queens shifted later in the season. This year those 30 % will be 10 %, a better figure. Also the quality of the breeder queens have been better concerning the years they havn’t needed any treatment. And the VSH value is better, Varroa Sensitive Hygien.

Spring15-10 This looks like an ideal colony. Three boxes completely full of bees. It’s heavy, but not as heavy as last fall. There is some room left. I can estimate the weight when lifting the hive a little on both sides. Experience helps here. This colony did not get any super now, even though it had so many bees. They will manage well until it gets one in 1-2 weeks. The next round to the apiaries will be with the car filled with supers and also some food combs that probably will be needed.

Spring15-13 This is also a very good colony, a split from last year wintered on two boxes. Full of bees, plenty of food, but space left for nectar and larvae. They will get their third box in a week or two.

Spring15-16 A colony that was more insulated with insulation combs in both boxes. It responded by making brood in late February and March almost using up their food. It’s interesting a smaller colony with a fresh queen can respond in such a way to develop their strength in off season like this. An insulation comb was removed from the light weight side and a comb empty of food had their bees shaken off. The colony was given two combs full of food. On the other more weighty side of the colony, the bees had one full comb of food. That’s the minimum I want for a colony, three combs of food (about 5 kg ≈11 pounds). This colony is the result of a queenless split last year, which failed to make themself a queen. It was united with a split, that had a new laying queen, that was too small to be able to survive winter on their own. This situation probably triggered the more heavily brooding in spite of the smaller size, maybe a survival instinct as the colony had many old bees to start with that probably wouldn’t make it through winter. They had to be replaced in some way.

Spring16-5 This colony is weakened, the bees sitting close to a insulation comb to keep themselves warm. The bees are covering two full shallows in the top box. They had enough food. Already in November they had started to go down in strength. That’s why several combs were removed and replaced with insulation combs. I could have removed the bottom box, but that will probably be done at the next visit. This colony is questionable if it will survive. Does it has it Nosema and/or virus problems? Next visit will tell.

Spring16-8a This colony is almost full of bees on three boxes and it is very heavy, as heavy as last fall. It has barely used any food or has collected a lot of willow nectar. The truth is probably a bit of both. The colony has built much new wax on inner cover plastic sheet. It’s too cold (8C=46F) to open up and replace a number of combs with empty drawn ones. The quickest and easiest way is to add a super above an excluder (or without an excluder), which was done.

Some colonies now in early April got an increase super. In a way it wasn’t needed as the weather still was to cold to really trigger the swarming instinct. But if the boxes of the colony are filled with bees and they either are empty of food or heavy as lead indicating no space left, then they got a box. Five colonies out of about 150 got it. The next round to the apiaries will be focused on increase and the car will be filled with supers with empty drawn 4.9 mm cell size combs. This will happen in 1-2 weeks after this visit.

I’m fascinated how small my bees actually are now!

Oxalic side effects

Oxalic acid has been used for many years in Europe to kill Varroa mites in bee colonies. Recently it has been approved for use in USA.

Oxalic Trickling Photo: Anders Berg

When choosing between strategies against this mite it’s good to know all the pros and cons. Not much has been said about the negative aspects of this acid. In 2012 a study was published that hasn’t got much attention among researchers. I understand it’s why Dr Heike Ruff at Würzburgs university in Germany wrote a note about this study in the German bee magazine ADIZ no 2-2015, page 16.

The website Resistantbees.com made a reference to this and also made a summary of the study. http://resistantbees.com/blog/?page_id=2302#dt

If you succeed in using Oxalic acid correct it can help bees survive while they otherwise had died. But experiences from Sweden is that it’s difficult to have a number of years in a row with low winterlosses using Oxalic acid. If it’s only because of not successful tracking of the mite population and treating in summer when needed, not to get to high mite population when it’s time for Oxalic, I don’t know. Or treating when there’s still brood in the colony, quite useless. Or maybe damage has been adding up some years whch results in high losses with intervalls. Obviously there’s more to find out. This study cited below shows that. More beekeepers in Sweden are finding Thymol a better alternative, especially when used in spring (instead of Oxalic in winter) and after the main crop in late summer (instead of pesticide strips).

Best of all though is to work for resistant bees the best we can.

 

Sublethal effects of oxalic acid on Apis mellifera: changes in behavior and life expectancy. Oxalic acid treatment side effects
To combat the Varroa mite beekeepers can use different veterinary drugs, including organic acids such as formic acid or oxalic acid (OS). So far only the efficacy against the mite and how well the bees could tolerate the acid was evaluated for the approval of the OS. The criterion for how well the bees can withstand and tolerate the Oxalic acid is determined if the bees die (the mortality of the bees). Therefore the recommendation for treatment for Central Europe is to treat once in the broodfree time in late autumn with 3.5% sodium dihydrate OS. Higher concentrations or multiple treatments lead to high loss of bees. A study now shows that the OS-treatment, despite correct application can have harmful effects on bees. The acid affects both the performance and behavior. Treated workers neglected the brood and were inactive. Learning and memory performance for fragrances were reduced. Even the life of the bees were shortened. In addition, the acid can damage the digestive tract of the bee. Also, the bees clean frequently. Whether it is the desire of the bee, to get rid of adhering acid crystals on the body, or is a symptom of poisoning is unclear. Obviously, however, such weakened bees cannot contribute to the health of the colony. The exact effects of the OS are not known to the researchers. Further studies will show whether the effects of acid are caused by nerve damage (neurotoxicity).

 

The results of the study showed

  • That the treatment with OA led to a reduced lifespan.
  • That treated bees showed an increased self-grooming, a superior tendency to inactivity and decreased nursing behaviour….The increased self-grooming of the treated workers could be caused by the detected residues of OA on bee surface.
  • Treatment with a 3.5% solution of oxalic acid dehydrate (OA), corresponding to the dosage of 175 μg/bee, causes sublethal effects on A. mellifera. The decreased activity and nursing as well as the reduced lifespan of treated bees are aspects for a permanent damage due to the treatment with OA.
  • A decreased activity was also noticed in other studies where bees were numb for several hours (24–48 h) post application of 50 mL 4.2% oxalic acid per colony (Bacandritsos et al. 2007). Similar effects are known from bees treated with formic acid. Due to the fact that the animals did not recover from their immobility, permanent neurotoxic damage was assumed (Bolli et al. 1993). Concerning OA treatment comparable damage may have caused the decreased tasks performance in the colony, including nursing.
  • OA treatment affects the general condition of bee colonies: the workers’ performance is restrained due to the changes in behaviour, the decreased nursing of brood can lead to a lack of healthy and vital workers and the decreased lifespan could modify demographic alterations in colony age structure. Under the suggestion, that the treatment will cause damage of the digestive organs, such bees would be weaker and less vital. This could influence the general state of health of whole colonies.

 

References:

  1. Schneider, S., Eisenhardt, D., RADEMACHER, E., Sublethal effects of oxalic acid on Apis mellifera (Hymenoptera: Apidae): changes in behaviour and longevity, Apidologie, Springer Verlag (Germany), 2012, 43 (2), sid.218-225. https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-01003525/document
  2. Ruff, Heike, Oxalsäurebehandlung mit Nebenwirkungen, ADIZ 2015; 70 (2), p.16.

The Beeshakers

‘The Beeshakers’ would be a good name for a pop/rock/soul-band/group, wouldn’t it? Why not a group of beekeepers that have control of their bees and the Varroa infestation?

Regardless of if you are on the path of becoming treatment free or treating with whatever to get rid of pathogens and parasites in your hives (and creating other problems probably along the way – that goes for both groups unfortunately). Agree we can that the world would be a better place for bees and men without killers. That’s why treatment free is the goal!

A year ago I wrote about the bee shaker: http://www.elgon.es/diary/?p=354 Here are some more tips how to get control of the Varroa situation in the hive.

When a colony has problems you can speculate and discuss about how many mites there are in the colony. If that’s why the colony is dwindling. With a high number of mites often follows virus problems, more sensitivity to plant protection chemicals and more susceptibility to Nosemas, and all of this together in a spinning wheel. You can know the mite infestation much better with this simple method that is quick and done on the spot in the apiary, with some training in a few minutes per hive.

 

Make the beeshaker

I used two plastic bottles containing peanut butter of the brand Skippy, a bee tight but not varroa tight netting, mesh size 3 mm, a plate shears, a proper sized hole saw (in this case for a 60 mm hole) and a soldering iron at 80-100 watts.

Biskak1

Get rid of the peanut butter and wash the bottles. Saw holes in the lids. Cut a piece of mesh so it fits inside the lids and covering the hole. Put one of the lids on a table, then the piece of mesh, finally the other lid upside down. Keep it all together with one hand (or some one else’s hands). Solder the caps with the piece of netting in between.

Biskak2Biskak3Biskak4

Pour one deciliter (3.5 fl oz UK; 3.4 fl oz US) in one of the bottles. Mark the waterline around the bottle with a black marker pen. Get rid of the water. Now you have calibrated the bee shaker. When you fill this jar with live bees up to the black line you have close to or exactly or somewhat above 300 bees, enough accurate so you don’t need to count them. (If you use 2/3 of a deciliter you get 200 bees.)

Biskak5

 

Make a test

Don’t take bees close to the entrance. They have bad correlation to the real amount of mites in the colony, fewer mites on those bees. Take bees relatively close to the brood, but not from a comb with the queen (poor queen if she should end up in the shaker). You may well take bees from a comb without brood, but close to the brood. In the upper brood box is a good choice if you use two brood boxes. Check for the queen! Avoid the outermost comb in the box, unless brood is close and it’s filled with bees. Most secure and quickest is if you use queen excluder and you have super(s) above it (depends on the season of course). Take bees from the center of the first super close to the excluder.

Take the jar with the black line (black color doesn’t fade so easily by the sun), hold the opening close to bees on the comb and move it from below upwards. Bees will tumble down. Hit the bottom of the jar gently against something sometimes so that the bees will be shaken down on the bottom. You then see easier when you have enough of them.

Biskak6

Before this procedure you have poured 2 deciliter of some kind of high content alcohol fluid into the other jar. The soldered caps are on top of it (there’s a hole you know you can pour through). Pour the alcohol into the jar with the bees. They die. Screw the lids with the other jar onto the jar with the bees and the alcohol. Shake it for a minute, not too hard and not too soft, “lagom” as we say in Sweden (a frequently used word when you don’t know what word to use). Turn the shaker upside down. The alcohol and the mites will go down. The bees stay above. Lift the shaker up towards heaven. The light will shine through and you can count the mites. (Live mites now killed will sink to the bottom. Dry mites from natural downfall will float. Just want to make clear the difference.) Recycle the alcohol through a fine mesh into the now empty jar to get it ready for the next hive.

Biskak7 Randy Oliver counting

Biskak8

 

Count and calculate

You may find 9 mites on your 300 bees (which you DON’T have to count, it’s enough with the calibration done to get an enough good estimation of the mite infestation). That’s 9/300 = 3/100 = 3% infestation. You can find that small or big, depending on when you did the measurement and what you are up to. Maybe you are in the middle of a breeding program for Varroa resistance. Maybe you want to find out when to treat, so you will not treat to late, or making an unnecessary treatment.

In spring, especially in a breeding program for resistance, you don’t want 3% infestation. If you’re in a breeding program you will probably take another measurement a month later. If you’re not, you maybe want to treat now, if you find something that’s good using in spring (there’s really only one option here that is least damaging in different respect, thymol).

If you get 3% after the main crop in the middle of July or in the beginning of August (or September maybe), you may decide not to treat if you’re in a breeding program. If you’re not and the bees will be without brood in November or December (on higher latitudes in Europe and Canada) and you plan to use Oxalic acid (which I don’t recommend for different reasons [though you’re the boss in your operation]) you may wait until then. If you consider pesticide strips or Apiguard (Thymol) or Formic acid, you may decide for that now.

If you get 3% in October, November just prior using Oxalic, you may decide not to use any Oxalic. Like a friend in our resistance breeding program here in Sweden. He has the limit 5% for deciding when to treat. All colonies below that limit don’t get any treatment with him.

If you treat all your colonies whatever figures you get in your measurements because you hate the mites that much, you get at least figures you can use in selecting the ones with the highest numbers. Those are the ones that should have their queens shifted in some way.

 

More to read

http://scientificbeekeeping.com/sick-bees-part-11-mite-monitoring-methods/ eller kort url: http://alturl.com/np8ez

http://svenskbihalsa.se together with Google translate

Biskak9Biskak10 Another Swedish alternative of the BeeShaker, Varroa Sampling Tool, which is for sale from http://svenskbihalsa.se