All posts by Andrew Millar

About Andrew Millar

Biologist by education programmer by trade. Being a beekeeper is my main hobby, passion even.

Community Veggie Garden

New site link:

Just a short update.

Because the weather was lousy here for a few days. There even was some record number of nonstop rain hours, 60, which apparently this is not unheard of in autumn, winter or spring but quit rare for summer. Anyway, the rain prevented me from continuing the Apiguard treatment, replacing the tray for a new one. Saturday was cold-ish so I thought “I’ll do it tomorrow in between showers”…but there was no “in-between”.

I think I already mentioned that I was missing a honey super from the bee stand but now I’m also missing a syrup feeder. I’ll contact the beekeepers society that exploits the apiary. I’m thinking that maybe I should take my bees somewhere else and not store my stuff at the bee stand. My wife started a community vegetable garden close by, which has a garage close by where we get our water from. On top of this garage I can place the bees. That way non of the gardeners or visitors (both of which a surprising number are afraid of getting stung) will be directly confronted by the bees.

The drones in the above video are desperate for a meal, there were a lot visiting the colony. I don’t know if my girls are one of the last to continue to feed them, I didn’t notice as many at the other hives. In dutch they call the cession of feeding the drones “de darren slacht” which literally translates to the drone slaughter even though the workers don’t actually kill the drones they at most drag them out of the hive and refuse to feed them. I don’t know what the official English term for this behavior is, anyone? Compared to many solitary bees the honey bee male has is easy, he gets fed and is welcomed everywhere. Many solitary bees have to defend a range against intruders and other males. They don’t get free room and board or they get lucky a date with a queen. They just work their ass of and if they’re lucky get to mate with a number of commoners…

FYI, I reduced the hive entrance before I left so the girls don’t have defend such a large opening against wasps and robber bees.


Queen cell

Two Queens

This time of year it’s possible to find two queens in your colonies, don’t panic, this is often caused by a silent supersedure. That’s where the bees decide that an old queen or under performing queen gets dethroned by the worker bees. So I guess bee colones are more of a democracy rather than a monarchy than you would think.

A blog from our national bee society mentioned this issue recently. I think this is what happened to Sif last year. I was already not very satisfied with the queen but didn’t get to replace her. Then I found an empty queen cell in early fall. I didn’t know what to do, but already suspected a silent supersedure. As I hadn’t marked my queen, I had no way of knowing.

What I don’t understand is why the new queen doesn’t eliminate the old queen immediately, and if she doesn’t what happens to the old queen? Does the new queen kill the old queen later, after a nuptial flight? Do the worker bees eliminate the old queen? Does the old queen leave of her own accord? I don’t know, although the last option seems unlikely to me. Anyone have any idea?


New Post On

I’ed  like to discus two scientific articles on the possible cause of colony loss over the winter period (referred to as colony collapse disorder (CCD) in English speaking countries). The first article was published in the peer reviewed online publication PLOS ONE this month.

In this study the researchers (and the beekeepers) collected and analysed data from a total of 86 colonies using the following scheme (abbreviated copy from the article); continue reading

New Varroa Treatment

Okay I don’t know if it is actually new, the method is so simple that I can’t imagine that no one has ever used this before. There was an article in the monthly magazine given out by the Dutch national beekeepers association about this Varroa treatment and I had not yet heard of it, it sounds quite intuitive.

In this treatment you would wait till after the last honey harvest so this time table is dependent on when you finished that. Starting too late will perhaps impact the rearing of winter bees. With this treatment, say in the first week of July, the queen should be caught and then trapped between two queen excluders in a honey super with at least 5 drawn frames at the bottom of the hive. Two weeks later the frames with brood should be removed and replaced with new drawn frames. A week after this, the queen excluders should be removed and a week later still you should remove the frames with closed brood along with the the honey super.

Now the idea behind this method should be quite evident and seems simple. You don’t give the varroa any other place to hide accept in the brood, trapped in the supper with the queen. By taking away the brood you, over a number of weeks, take away most if not all Varroa mites.

The only drawback of this method I see, is that this would impact the bee population quite dramatically. You would essentially be removing almost 4 weeks of new bees from the hive. The reasoning behind this method according to the article was that treatment with formic acid, which is common in the Netherlands at the end of summer, takes a hefty toll on the bees. Living in the fumes of 80% formic acid for over 3 weeks can’t be fun. I should know, I got 80% formic acid in my face once and let me tel you, that wasn’t pleasant.

So I guess all methods of treatment have drawbacks and you should go by you’re own experience. But with the number of colonies I have (uhm…one), I can’t experiment. So I guess this year I’ll be using the method I used last year which was the Apiguard variety. But this year I’ll keep a close eye on the mite drop (and look for any ants) not forgetting the Vaseline this time.


(link to article on new site:

New site (domain)

I’ve been wanting to move the bee blog to my own domain for a while. Registering a new domain only for the bee-blog is perhaps a little to much, but I finally got round to making a sub-domain for the bee-blog. The hosting company I use has a really easy way to install WordPress, which I finally got round to using to creating a new blog on a subdomain;

So I think from now on I will be posting new blog posts only on that domain. Perhaps I will continue with the Dutch version of the blog on I will keep the online for the foreseeable future, I will just updating that blog. Perhaps I will post links to the new domain on that site but that is about it I think.


Moisture Quilt

Moisture quilt by Herb Lester
Moisture quilt by Herb Lester via the Honey Bee Suite . Photo: Herb Lester

I had read about moisture quilts before in a cursory manner and at first thought it slightly ridiculous. But then I read an article (and then a series of articles) on a blog I read and take seriously: Honey Bee Suite. I know it may seem slightly like a “argument from authority” fallacy. But Rusty from the Honey Bee Suit seems an experienced, quite well informed and down to earth apiarist, as well as an accomplished blogger. Rusty claims:

“Of all the changes I made to my hives over the years, nothing has helped more than the moisture quilts. I’ve used quilts for five years now, and on average, I went from overwintering 50-60 percent of my hives, to overwintering 80-100 percent.”

But what I would be more interested in is knowing what percentage of the bees themselves survive the winter with or without moisture quilts. Rusty seems to have quite a large number of hives, estimating from other blog posts I’ve read, I’d say well over 10. My own two hives can hardly provide enough data to get any significant results on hive level. Thats why I’m more concerned with how many of the bees in the hive survive winter, if more survive then the hive will start the season healthier and grow faster.

This doesn’t look like a swarm cell to me

Sif didn’t show signs of swarming so didn’t require the making of an artificial swarm this year and had seemed to start slow in spring. Which says to me that it was a weak hive/queen to begin with. I already had a feeling that the queen was slightly sluggish in spring. I was planing on replacing her later in the season but didn’t. I have the impression that there has been a silent supersedure at the end of summer (see picture on the right) when I had started my new job and didn’t check the bees as often as I should have. I wasn’t expecting swarms so late in the season, nor did I get one. Depending on the the performance of this new queen in Sif, I will replace her with one from Artemis next season. Artemis was already a strong hive this year and I expect it to start the next season strong, the young queen comes from a pure strain mother (I forget if the mother was a buckfast or carnica). Back on topic; I’m making (actually Pieter Knorr is making them as I’m feeling slightly under the weather) moisture quilts and will report on how they seemed to perform at the beginning of the bee season next spring (The Netherlands is a quite humid place so I guess that they should do what they are supposed to). Even though it will be hard to say if any observed effect is due to the quilts or some other unknown effect(s). I have yet to see any other beekeeper in my apiary use moisture quilts but that could also be because I haven’t been looking for them. But they were also not mentioned during the beekeeper course I followed. Perhaps I will also ask a local beekeeper on the topic, even though I have no idea what to they would call these constructions locally. Andrew

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…