Monday, September 29, 2014

Fall Prep: 2014-09-24

During this latest visit to the bee hives, I set out to accomplish the stated goals at the end of the previous bee blog:
  • Remove the honey from White Hive
  • Perform a powdered sugar roll mite sampling
  • Combine the two hives into one
With the help of my friend Keith, I was able to make it all happen in one evening.  You wouldn't think that you would open the hives up at 7 PM and a short time later you are loosing all the light because the sun is setting!  You sure don't worry about that during the summer when the sun doesn't set until well after 9:30 PM.

Step 1 - Remove the honey:  Since I have only ever had one hive that I need to remove honey from, I use a simple method of doing so.  Get an empty hive box and cover it with a damp cloth.  Remove a frame with honey on it.  Shake the frame with a sharp jerking motion until most of the bees are removed and brush the rest off.  Put the bee-free frame into the empty box and drape the damp cloth back over the box so bees don't get back onto the frames.  Someday if I have 5 hives all with multiple boxes of honey on them, then I may have to change my methodology.  Until then, this works just fine.

Step 2 - Perform mite sampling:  We live in a time when our European honey bees are plagued by an aptly named mite called Varroa Destructor.  This mite is a parasite of the Asian honey bee but was introduced here in the 1980's.  Our honey bees had no real resistance to them and they have been a huge problem ever since.  I won't treat my colonies with chemicals but it is a good idea to know if you have a really bad infestation of mites or not.  One of the methods of determining your mite level is called a powdered sugar roll.  First you take a jar with a mesh screened lid and get a 1/2 cup of bees in it (approximately 300 bees) from a brood frame.

Selecting a brood frame for mite sampling
Then you put the lid on and put some powdered sugar in the jar and then roll the sugar and bees around and around for a minute or two.

Where did this sugar blizzard come from?
The sugar causes the mites to loose their grip on the bees and they fall off.  You then shake the sugar out of the jar and the mites come with it.  Once you have shaken the sugar out, rolled the bees around some more and shaken it out again, you dump the disoriented bees back into the hive.  Their sisters are more than happy to groom the sugar off of them!  Since the sugar is white and the mites are red, it is very easy to spot them.  You spray a little water on the sugar and it quickly dissolves leaving you the mites and perhaps a few small pieces of debris.  Count the mites and you use the formula (mites / 3) * 2 = % infestation level.  You multiply the "mites per bee" number by 2 because you are assuming many more mites are in brood cells (University of Minnesota mite sampling method).

Stunned "ghost" bees poured back into the hive
For this exercise, I sampled one frame and had 4 mites.  So that gives me (4 / 3) * 2 = 2.67 % infestation level.  If you were really serious then you would do this to multiple brood frames in multiple boxes.  Or you would do this across multiple hives.  If your infestation level was high enough you would then decide to treat your hives or not.  A typical treatment threshold is somewhere around 10%.  For me, I just wanted to go through the exercise to really see how it was done.  I was also inspired by Bill over at the TheBeeVlog to get a digital microscope and take a closer look at the mites causing all these problems.  If you watch the video in that link, you will see some interesting detail on how they do the sampling.  Especially the little trick they use to get the bees in the jar.  It works!

Here are a few of the microscope photos of these nasty little buggers.

Varroa mite (top)

Varroa mite (bottom)

Mite with extended forelegs
So how would you like to carry one of these blood suckers around all day?  And you thought a Monday without coffee was rough??   =)

Step 3 - Combine the hives:  With Green Hive queenless and no hope of replacing her this late in the season, I did a "newspaper combine" of the two hives into one.  You just lay a sheet of newspaper over the top of one hive and stack the boxes from the other hive on top of the newspaper.  This allows the scents of one hive to mingle with the other before the bees are blended together.  This reduces or eliminates any fighting between the two colonies.

Newspaper combine of White and Green hives
Over the next few days the bees will chew through the sheet of newspaper and will be one big happy family ready to tough it out through the Winter.

This will be my last major beekeeping task for the year.  I did decide to buy some winter wraps and I will be putting them on the hive before the first "Polar Vortex" gets here.  I will also be placing a mouse guard on the entrance to prevent any unwanted residents during the Winter months.

As twilight descends on this inspection, it also descends on this beekeeping season.  I did not achieve most of my goals this year but I am hopeful that the bees will come through this Winter will flying colors.  I'm sure they will be eagerly awaiting Spring as much as I will be!

Until next time, thank you always for reading!


  1. I'm excited to see how your combine works. I have heard about newspaper combines and always wondered how much newspaper to put between them. 1 sheet sounds easy enough - thanks for the information. I can't wait to see how it works and how long it takes. Good luck through the winter!

    1. I have read that 1 or 2 sheets is fine. I have read to put slits in it. I have read not to put slits in it. Like anything beekeeping related it seems everyone does it different. I didn't worry about it too much and I just put one sheet down. I haven't seen a bunch of shredded newspaper in front of the hive, nor have I seen an unusual amount of dead bees in front either. I'm going to assume it is working as intended! =)

  2. Mark,

    Interesting post about the shaking. We don't have verroa as yet, probably will sone enough, but I like to see how to deal with it when it comes. I too have heard about the slits so let us all know how it goes without slits.

    1. Hopefully you won't ever have Varroa!

      Yes, I hope to open the hive one more time before Winter to see what they did with the newspaper. I expected to see shreds of newspaper outside the hive entrance but I have not seen any.