Monthly Archives: September 2014

Winter preperation

sugar syrup feeder
Bees feeding on the sugar syrup. The number of dead bees in the feeder is a little disturbing

I’m preparing the colonies for winter; I’ve assessed the amount of honey in the hives and the size of the colonies. There are about 7 frames of caped of honey between the two hives, perhaps 14 kilograms total. Both Sif and Artemis seem large enough to survive winter on two brood boxes. The bees need about 15 kilograms of either honey or sugar to make it through winter. Which would mean that after I divide the honey evenly between the two colonies, they both need an additional amount of about 9 kilograms of sugar in about  11 liters of sugar syrup. Then I still need to place the caped honey on the outside of the hives because caped honey is very slow to go bad and the bees spend little time at the outside of the hive. Last thing I have to remember to do is reduce the hive opening, to prevent mice and robing by other bees and wasps.

I’ve placed the (2 liter) feeders in the hives yesterday and filled them with about 2 liters of sugar syrup. I forgot to take a picture, but will add one the next time I fill the feeder, which will be in a day or two. They empty the feeder within two days. Which is extraordinary when you think about it. A bee can carry about its own body weight in honey/syrup, 0.1 gram. Which would mean that if one bee were to empty a feeder it would have to make the journey from the feeder and store it in a cell 26 thousand times… I’ll go see the day after tomorrow how far they emptied the feeders and return if they emptied them.

There are mixed reports what to do with humidity and ventilation. I’ve seen stories about constructions on top of the hive filed with wood chips to deal with humidity. But I also read somewhere else about having a sheet of plastic beneath the hive cover to provide water for the bees in the form of condensation droplets. I do’t know what is supposed to be the better choice. Likely it is dependent on climate, and I don’t know aht whould be the best strategy for the Dutch klimat. There was some fungus growth after the last winter but I read somewhere else that this is normal and should be expected.

When these preparations are finished there will be nothing for me to do, until near the winter solstice, when the bees will get their oxalic acid treatment.

I always wonder what the girl behind the supermarket checkout thinks when I come to the checkout with 9 kilograms of sugar and nothing else…

bye bye, Andrew

Edit: The bees emptied the feeder within two days, as I thought. But many bees died in the process. Perhaps that is because the second cover of the feeder is missing and the bees will enter the feeder from behind the excluder and easily drop in the syrup. I’ll order a new cover for the feeders asap, and I hope that that will help.
I left the dead bees in the feeder because bees that drop in the syrup perhaps can use the dead bees as flotation devices and crawl to safety.

Edit2: I just gave them their third serving of sugar syrup (6 liters total) and placed the second cover on the feeders so the bees couldn’t access the syrup directly and consequently fall in and drown. I talked to a fellow beekeeper visiting the apiary and he told me that he just used a tub with room for about 8 liters of syrup in which he put straw to prevent the bees from drowning. Hay would grow fungus pretty quickly (something I have already experienced) but straw wouldn’t and the bees would clean any trace of syrup from the straw. I’ll see if I can get my hands on some straw (from a local pet store or something) without turning my home into a barn, perhaps keeping the straw at the apiary would be the ticket.

AFB scare

american foulbrood
AFB, courtesy of Wikipedia

American foulbrood has been identified in two places near the city where I keep my bees, the hives infected have been cleared and there is a ban in place on moving bees within a 3 km (1.8 miles) radius around the effected hives. A little over a week ago the first two hives with AFB were found and yesterday a second outbreak was identified in a hive close to (but outside the 3 km “exclusion zone”) of the first effected hive. I read somewhere that all the hives in the apiary with an infected hive should be cleared but I can’t find clear information on this happening in these cases.

I never paid much attention to the mad cow disease and swine flue scare, but now that it actually concerns animals in which I am invested and have a vested interest I do care. Perhaps a little hypocritical of me but that is just how it is.

American foulbrood is a disease caused by the spore forming bacteria; Paenibacillus larvae, which can stay dormant in your hive for years before it becomes active. I haven’t found what can instigate an outbreak but perhaps as with DWV which will only effect hives that have been weakened by say Varroa. A healthy colony with a healthy grooming propensity can be a carrier of the disease without being effected by it.

The spores produced by this bacteria don’t effect adult bees but to young brood it is devastating. Larva can be infected by food that contains spores. Larva younger than a day are easily effected, but 4 day old larva are orders of magnitude less likely to get an infection from the spores.
Finding a weakened colony with very little open brood can indicate that the colony is infected with this disease. The hive will seem lifeless and the caps on the closed brood will have holes or tears. The “matchstick test”, poking in a cell with a torn cap, will produce a yellow brownish goo (as seen in the image at the top).

In The Netherlands informing the authorities of an AFB suspicion is mandatory. Although it is unclear to me how many beekeepers stick to that rule. I guess all the beekeepers here in the north of the country are on alert.

Hope for the best,


(Dutch version: link)

Addition1: I visited the bees today and there was no sign of AFB in either hive, I did see a  DWV bee walking on the frame in Artemis. This might be a sign of Varroa infection but I began my treatment against Varroa when this bee was perhaps a larva (bees with DWV don’t tend to live long, they will be removed from the hive by other bees). So this is not a sign of the actual Varroa pressure at this moment, I hope. Sif which does have a bottom board to catch the mite drop did have some mites in the three weeks it was under the hive but not a ridiculous amount. Not like the first time I treated Sif a little over a year ago (no pictures).
I also did a quick assessment of the stores of both colonies to get an impression of how much I will have to feed them. I think they have about 7 frames of honey between them, Sif a little more than Artemis but I will divide the honey evenly and feed them both the same amount
of sugar syrup. I expect that about 10 kilogram sugar each should be enough to get them through winter.
I’ll post new AFB developments here.

Postscript: I talked to a more experienced beekeeper at the apiary yesterday (21/09/14) and he told me that a colony with AFB isn’t necessarily lost. What you can do, according to him, is make a “Shook Swarm” of the entire colony then leave the colony in a ventilated box for an extended amount of time till the first bees start dying from starvation.
You do this because the AFB spores live in honey surrounding the brood nest and to be sure the spores are gone the bees in the shook swarm need to burn through all the honey they have in their stomach. Then the bees will be free of AFB and you can put them into a clean hive.
This method seems somewhat iffy to me as it seems easy to either kill the colony or still leave them with honey infected with AFB, I hope I never get the opportunity to try this method.

Addition2: (07/09/14): There has been a second outbreak of AFB in a town called Exloo, which is about 50 kilometers (≈30 miles) form my home town. For me in the right direction compared to the last case which was about 16 kilometers (10 miles) away.

Addition3: (19/9/14): A third AFB outbreak has been found, this time in a Town called Stadskanaal, again about 50 k from my bees, close to the last outbreak. Still not free from the AFB scare…