OSVC Updates 10/18/21

I’ve gotten behind on updates, but have visited the OSVC hives 4-5 times since the last report to do mite counts and feed them; so, this update will be more generalized than others.

Hive 4:
This hive had a 4% mite load (10/8/21) before the last formic pro treatment. I applied one pad on 10/8/21 and it brought the mite load down to 0% (10/18/21). I was afraid that this last and final treatment may have killed the queen; however, I did finally find her, and a small amount of brood. I will not be adding the second pad to complete a full course of treatment because they are now below threshold.

After this year’s losses due to formic pro (of both queens and high amounts of worker bees), I will only be applying formic pro to top bar hives one strip at a time, and when day time highs are below 84 degrees.

This hive has been able to put on some weight since mid-summer, but will still need some supplemental feeding.

Hive 4 Capping Honey for Winter
No mites!
Feeding Bees Crystalized Honey During Formic Tx

I fed Hives 3 and 4 crystalized honey during formic treatment, because honey does not absorb the formic acid like sugar water does (this is why you can not feed during formic acid treatment).

Hive 3:
This colony lost it’s queen during Tx, I think. The mite load before Tx was 4% (10/8/21). There were a couple emergency queen cells. One that a queen emerged from and one that was torn down. I found the virgin queen. I can either see how it plays out (I have a hive a mile away with drones), or I can install a queen from Melanie. The likelihood of a queen mating this late in the season is low, but I’d kind of like to see if it works out.

This hive had some capped brood and has also been able to add some more weight.

There were quite a few dead mites on the bottom of the hive, indicating that the treatment was effective at killing a large amount of mites.

Mites on Hive 3’s Honey Jar

Hive 2:
This hive had a 7% mite load on 8/16/21 and began receiving oxalic acid vapor treatments (thanks to Craig) (all other hives had been treated with formic and had a 0% mite load). The mite load gradually went down to 6% on 9/29/21. On 10/8/21, 2% mite load. On 10/18/21 it was down to a 0.66% mite load, below threshold. This was great to see after all the mite challenges.

This colony has a decent amount of brood. The queen was seen. They still need to put on some weight before winter.

Hive 2 Queen

Hive 1:
This hive had a 2% mite load on 10/8/21. It has received a couple oxalic acid vapor treatments since then. I assume it is now below threshold. I did not retest every hive because they have endured so much testing and treatment this season. I think this hive has likely maintained threshold or fallen below.

I saw the queen and a good amount of brood going into winter. Like the other hives, this hive also needs to put on some weight before winter. I am feeding them a fall sugar syrup, honey, and fondant in the back of the hive. The bees have a buffet to choose from. They are taking the sugar water most quickly. I thought this was interesting. Maybe because it is more easily accessible? While crystalized honey and fondant require some water to move and store?

Hives 4, 3, and 1 had 0% mite loads after their formic pro treatments this summer. Two of the hives had to be requeened. Mite loads then crept back up and honey stores plummeted. My theory is that they were weakened from the treatment, were robbed, and then picked up mites during that process. This all happened during the time of the season when robbing is particularly bad. Reducing entrances after treatment probably would have helped with this problem.

I’ve never experienced such a struggle in keeping mite loads down, and subsequent queen and bee losses from formic acid treatments. My hypothesis is that we had large vibrant colonies throughout Albuquerque when the large amounts of rain came. More robust colonies means more mites. With the combination of drift and robbing, I think it made it difficult to keep mite loads consistently low.

Formic Pro is a newer formulation and I wonder if it’s changed in strength or dispersal since it first came out. I know it is different from MAQs, in that it was designed to release formic acid more evenly during the duration of treatment. This is frustrating to us beekeepers who have used formic acid for some time with great success; and now see large amounts of queen loss etc and have to adjust our sails. I guess thats beekeeping!

I now have an oxalic acid vaporizer, protective gear, and training from Craig…

I gifted all hives with some lemongrass fondant for the winter.

OSVC Hive Updates 9/3/21

Hive 1:
This hive is doing well. I was surprised to see a single swarm cell. I removed it, and added some space to the front for the queen to lay. She already seemed to have plenty of empty cells, but a blank bar was moved to the front. I will keep an eye on the spacing. This colony has enough pollen and honey stores for this winter.

This is the swarm cell seen in Hive 1. Although it is in the center of the comb, it is hanging vertically from an open space (not a supercedure cell)

Hive 2:

This queen is laying an excellent brood pattern. They have a decent amount of honey stored. Craig has continued to treat this hive with oxalic acid vapor when he is treating his. This was the only hive that was not treated with formic pro. It has a mite load of 6% and then a 4% mite load after the first oxalic treatment. It should continue to go down. 3 bars of brood were taken from this colony and given to Hive 3 to help it along. 3 bars of honey/empty comb were taken from Hive 3 and given to this colony for safekeeping (Hive 3 has very small numbers now, and a lot of comb where wax moths are proliferating).

A bar with an excellent brood pattern that was donated to Hive 3

Hive 3:

This hive has changed dramatically since the inspection I did two weeks ago. Their numbers were on the lower side then, and they have continued to dwindle. The colony had a few bars of capped worker brood, but I noticed that there was a bar of brood where the queen had laid unfertilized eggs (drones) in worker cells. She may be failing. Due to their low numbers, there is a large amount of unattended comb and the wax moths have been able to proliferate. This is the first time I have seen a wax moth trail under brood. Such a bummer, but I was glad I was able to recognize what was going on.

You can see the bald brood in ‘trails’ where the wax moths have been.

This hives queen was replaced with a queen from Megan Mahoney’s black line. Unfortunately, it may need to be requeened again. I confirmed that the queen is still in the hive and laying (I saw her and eggs). *Besides this queen, Megan’s queens have been excellent.

Drone brood in worker comb

Hive 4:

This hive is the healthiest right now. They are still bringing in nectar, are drawing some comb, and have plenty of stores for winter.

New nectar, dark
Large amount of bees with a solid brood pattern underneath

OSVC Hive Updates 6/15/21

Hive 1:

This hive is doing fair. Expanding a little slower than the others. Brood is spotty, so a mite test should be done soon. I added two new bars to the brood area. This colony has expanded to bar 20, with a few partial bars of honey after that. No signs of brood disease and adult bees seem healthy. There were more dead bees than usual outside the entrance of this hive.

Spotty Brood
Colorful Pollen

Hive 2:

This hive swarmed despite the split. The bees even made empty supersedure cells (I opened them up). I still see some swarm cells along the edges of 3 combs. Will wait a bit longer. I have a hive at home from this split that can be brought back to OSVC if necessary.

Swarm cell, and a mite on a bee-testing and possibly Tx needs to be done soon
Empty Supersedure Cells (They were drawn after the split, but there was never an egg or developing queen inside)

Hive 3:

This hive has continued to expand quickly and is on a heavy nectar flow. Need to harvest honey in a few weeks.

Bees Fanning To Cool The Hive

Hive 4:

This colony extends to bar 20, and I added 5 blank bars to the brood area. These bees are doing tremendously well. They have a well mated queen (raised and mated at OSVC!) and healthy bees. Great brood pattern. I expect that this hive will produce some harvestable honey this year.

OSVC raised queen
Solid brood in Hive 4

By 10:30-11 it was getting too hot to work the top bar hives. I would be careful with allowing students to hold bars outside the hive very long. I worked carefully and quickly.

I’ve noticed that the northern most hives in this apiary consistently have the most mites.

OSVC Hive Updates: May 20, 2021

Hive 1: This hive is doing well, healthy brood. Not a lot of honey stored, but there was nectar falling from the combs during my inspection, indicating that they just hit a nectar flow. I cut out some old comb and added 2 empty bars to the brood space-slowly shifting older comb to the back. I noticed that the older brood comb has slightly spotty brood, while the newer comb has solid healthy brood.

Hive 2: This hive was full from front to back. It has expanded tremendously the past 2 weeks. I did a split. The queen laid in some swarm cells yesterday and
today—the eggs were still standing up. Those bars are labeled. This hive may
need to be split again. I added two blank bars to the brood space and one to the
front. This colony is building comb very quickly.

Split from hive 2 loaded up and ready to go!

Great brood pattern

Swarm cells that the queen had just laid in
Brand new comb

Hive 3: This colony is on a heavy nectar flow. I had to straighten and butter a lot of comb. The queen was seen. They are drawing new comb quickly. I placed 2 new bars in the brood area.

Hive 4: It is now clear why this colony did not want the queen I installed during their prior inspection. A newly mated queen had just arrived back to the hive. She’s easy to see now and has been laying well. The brood looks healthy and so do the bees. They are beginning to store a good amount of honey.

OSVC Hive Report 4/19/21

On April 8th Hive 1 was repopulated with a split and Hive 2 was repopulated with a swarm. 

April 19th: Some wind gusts.  Mostly sunny, about 65 degrees

Starting with the southernmost hive-

Hive 4:  

I’m disappointed to share that while I went to OSVC to split this hive and prevent swarming, I missed it.  It took me some time to figure out that a virgin queen had emerged, as there were still 14 ripe queen cells, ready for a queen to have her debut or be killed.  

I spent some time ensuring that a queen wasn’t still present.  No eggs–and then I heard piping.  The hive did in fact swarm.  This was a very large colony; this hive had thousands of bees festooning all the way to the back of the hive:

The hive was also just beginning to beard (some sisters are hanging outside of the entrance):

Play to listen to virgin queen piping…A LOT!

Thanks to this noisy queen I was able to determine that the original queen was gone. I then did a split by taking half of the swarm cells and the needed resources to start a new colony. This split was moved to the same location I got a split from to repopulate Hive 1.

Best wishes to these queens for successful mating flights.

Hive 3:
1-2 blank bars
3 honey
4-11 brood
12-14 blank comb with some nectar

All queen cups were empty. This hive his healthy and has room to expand. They are on a nectar flow. Eggs seen. Great brood pattern.

Hive 2:
1-2 empty bars
3-5 new comb/brood
6-14 new blank comb
15-20 honey
21-27 empty comb

This swarm has gotten cozy and done a lot of work in 11 days. If we stay on a nectar flow long enough this hive could be a honey maker. The new drawn healthy comb is plentiful and beautiful.

These girls were, as Craig would say, medium salsa. It was windy so we will see their true temperament in later hive inspections.

Hive 1:
This split is doing great and the queen is continuing to lay well. Eggs seen.

There is an abundance of drawn empty comb in the back of the hive due to this hive having to be repopulated, and the comb never being removed. I may remove and store some if the population doesn’t start to expand quickly (so that comb doesn’t succumb to wax moths etc.)

1-2 blank
3 honey
4-9 brood
10 honey
11-28 drawn empty comb

The Evening Before Grandma Passed

On Tuesday I got 11 hives ready for winter.

I condensed Langstroth hives to fewer boxes, shifted honey around so that every hive had enough, and arranged top bars in a way that benefits them as they form their winter cluster.

As these bees slow down and get ready to rest—I knew my grandma was doing the same. The nurses said she may not make it until morning.

I carried on with my beekeeping because it’s therapeutic.

When I couldn’t hold my grandma close as she took her last breaths, I was able to pray and say goodbye as I watched these bees end their day…with a beautiful sunset in the background. My grandma’s last.

Just like our breath carries in needed oxygen to our bodies—these bees carry in needed nutrients from plants; their coming and going like our own respiration…

My grandma passed on yesterday, the following morning.

European Foulbrood and the Shook Swarm Method

In the Spring of 2019 I started noticing a poor brood pattern in three of the four hives at an apiary used for students of the New Mexico Beekeepers Association. Upon closer inspection, I saw uncapped brood that was sunken, twisted on its side, discolored (yellow and dark brown), and showing its tracheal outline. Some larva had dried up and scaled to the side of the cell. Bees were quickly removing this dead larva, so it wasn’t easy to recognize these sick larva at first glance. There was also no smell. The rope test showed that it wasn’t ropey, but had a watery texture.

I took a sample from Hive 4 and sent it to the USDA Beltsville Lab in Maryland. They soon confirmed that the comb sample (with brood) that I sent in had European Foulbrood. Hive 3 also had EFB and Hive 2 had a small amount. I tried supplementing the hives with sugar water and I cut out infected and old comb. The EFB persisted. As a last resort, all four hives were treated with Terramycin following these recommendations from the Ohio State Beekeepers Association:

“For feeding 1 colony, mix 1 teaspoon of TM plus 5 teaspoons of powdered sugar…dusting should be directed on the outside edge of the frame top bars in the brood area, avoiding direct contact between the brood and the Terramycin mixture.”

Dusting this mixture directly onto the brood can kill any brood it comes into contact with as it is a concentrated amount and needs to be fed to them by nurse bees. To accommodate a top bar hive, I placed the mixture on the bottom of the hive below the brood nest. I treated all four hives in the apiary to ensure that any and all EFB was treated.

The EFB seemed to clear up quickly and completely. All hives looked healthy and robust in the fall, ready for winter.

Early this spring I saw that the bees came through winter well. They were healthy, but on April 1st I noticed that Hives 4, 3, and part of Hive 2 had signs of EFB. Unfortunately, reoccurance is a common problem with EFB. Hive 1 was almost completely clear of any signs. I got another comb sample from Hive 3 and prepared to send it to the Beltsville Lab again; however, due to the COVID-19 restrictions the lab is not taking samples until further notice.

This was disappointing, but after comparing pictures to this year’s brood and last year’s, it’s apparent that the EFB is back.

I did some more research and found that shook swarms have been quite effective at preventing recurrence of EFB in the UK (please refer to the study in resources below). I decided to do a shook swarm on all three infected hives, requeen them, feed them sugar water and ensure that they had a good pollen supply. These hives had a lot of old comb, and now would be a great time to give these hives a fresh start (no students coming to the apiary due to COVID-19).

Brief description of the shook swarm method:

Step 1: Place new hive and new bars or frames next to infected colony

Step 2: Find the queen and cage her; place her and new uninfected comb into new hive box with a few other bars of uninfected comb

Caging the queen first makes it easier to find her, ensures that she is not harmed in this process, and when she is caged the colony gets a brood break. The bacteria that causes EFB (Melissococcus plutonius) lives in honey and wax, so the bees need to expend all of their resources on making new wax and not feeding new eggs and larva–the new wax is later cut out. In the photo above the opening of the queen cage is face down, you do not want to do this if attendants are in the queen cage with her. If an attendant dies they can block the opening, preventing the queen from leaving the queen cage.

Step 3: Cover most of the hive with top bars if using a top bar hive so that bees aren’t completely exposed when they are shaken into the new hive.

It’s also a good idea to keep the infected area of the hive covered as much as possible to limit robbing and exposing other colonies to bacteria laden comb and honey.

Step 4: Shake bees into the new hive one bar at a time, cutting the comb off of the old bar and placing it into a closed container. (The old bars will need to be disinfected along with the old hive)

Step 5: Once new hive is completely assembled-close off the old hive completely and move it out of the way.

Step 6: Place colony in its original hive location.

The hive will quickly focus it’s efforts on building new comb. This is just what we want, as it encourages the bees to empty their honey crop and stomach of nectar infected with EFB. Infected honey (in their gut) is also not fed to larva at this time.

Step 7: Make sure hive is fed sugar water

Feeding the hive sugar water ensures that they have a decent food source, and more quickly clears their gut of nectar infected with EFB.

Step 8: Come back in 3 days to ensure that queen is released and cut out all of the new comb they have built. You don’t want to leave this new comb as it may have remaining bacteria. Now is a good time to add more uninfected comb and resources (honey and pollen).

Step 9 (optional): Requeen.

I re-queened these hives as this gave us one more way of ensuring that the EFB doesn’t reoccur. The old queen showed that her offspring could easily succumb to EFB. So why did I go ahead and cage the old queen? I caged the old queen and left her in the hive briefly so that the colony was more intact after having all of their brood taken away. Doing a shook swarm causes a lot of stress temporarily. Taking away the queen would just be one more strain on the hive and another reason for them to not behave as a cohesive colony.

The bees quickly settled into their new digs.

Outlook: After a week and a half (April 15th) the bees are showing no signs of EFB. The brood looks healthy and the bees are quickly expanding with new comb, brood, nectar and pollen.

Unfortunately, Hive 1 that was showing none and then very few signs of EFB also succumbed to this disease. This hive was also requeened and is being fed sugar water in hopes that the EFB will clear up without having to do a shook swarm. If possible, I’d like to move this hive to another area to place it in quarantine…

More on EFB:

European Foulbrood is known to be brought on by stressors such as poor nutrition. When the hive is weakened larva can succumb to the bacterium Melissococcus plutonius.

This bacteria is spread when tools or resources from one infected colony come into contact with another. Sometimes this bacteria is spread through natural bee movement. Bees carry bacteria in their gut with nectar that is then fed to larva and spread throughout a colony. It was no surprise that EFB seems to have affected most hives in the apiary. Hives are close together and students carry hive tools from one hive to the next. Its always important to wear gloves or wash hands, and disinfect hive tools when going from one hive to another.

CREDIT: Thank you Sarah Simms for giving hours of your time to this process and for taking the videos and many of the great photos above. This couldn’t have been done without you!


Information on Melissococcus plutonius: