BioFuel Oasis

Beekeeping in the East Bay by Month


Beekeeping in the East Bay by Month

In October 2012, I started a newsletter about what to do in your beehive each month. It is specifically for the East Bay (Berkeley, Oakland). It will be based on my experience going into my two Langstroth hives. My hives are located near Alcatraz and San Pablo in North Oakland/Emeryville, which is fairly foggy and close to the bay, so your experience may be different if you live in a warmer microclimate. To join the email list, fill your email address in below:

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Mid March 2014
February/March 2014
January 2014
December 2013
September 2013
August 2013
June 2013
April/May 2013
January 2013
October 2012

Mid March Backyard Beekeeping in the East Bay!
Make time to go into your hive this week, or you may have swarms in 2-3 weeks. If you’ve thought about doing a split, now is the time to do it!

1. MAKE SURE THERE IS ROOM FOR YOUR QUEEN TO LAY BROOD!
In each box that your queen has brood (or is allowed to lay brood if you are using a queen excluder), there should be 6-8 full frames of area for her to lay brood. These brood frames will be located in the middle of the box with 1-2 frames of honey/pollen on each end of the box. There can be a little honey in the upper corners of each frame, but just a little. If the honey is coming all the way down to the bottom and is getting wide on the sides of the brood, it is encroaching on the brood space. Take out honey frames and give them room for brood. Too little brood space will give the bees the urge to swarm, and they can create a swarm queen in 2 weeks. Going in every 2 weeks and checking for swarm cells and overcrowding is quite helpful from now till the end of May.

When you look at the top of box, there may be comb built on the box. It often gets opened up when you take the box above off, revealing honey and larva. In the picture of my hive to the right, it is drone larva, which is bigger than the worker larva. Remove all this extra comb on top of the frames. It means they are feeling crowded and will make them feel more spacious if you remove it. They can then rebuild it, instead of building queen swarm cells!

If you never go into your brood boxes, you may want to learn how – both the mite class and I got Bees class will give you experience inspecting the brood boxes. Having room in your brood boxes is the key to swarm control, rather than adding an empty super to the top of the hive.

2. Empty bottom box?
The bees are moving upwards at this time of year and will keep laying brood higher and higher. You may find that your bottom box is empty, or nearly empty. In this case, it’s good to move the bottom empty box up above so that it’s above where the brood is being laid. Then, the bees will move upwards into it and fill it with brood. It will make them feel spacious. In my hive, my bottom box had brood in the top half of the frames and pollen stored in the bottom half and around the brood. When that brood hatches out, they may not replace it, and I will switch my boxes as described above.

Short Honey Season?
If we don’t get much more rain, we may have a short season of honey this year and a very long drought summer. I’ve never fed my bees sugar water, but this may be required this year if you want to keep your bees from starving. Now is the time to get your greywater systems installed, start reusing your household water to feed your trees and garden, and provide food for the bees into the summer!

February/March Backyard Beekeeping in the East Bay!
I did a hive inspection yesterday. It was quite warm, the bees were mellow, and I got in before the expected rain later this week. I recommend going in on the next sunny day that is above 60 degrees – likely next week after the rains. February/March is the prime time to go in, give the bees enough room in the brood area, look for queen swarm cells, and prevent swarms.

1. MAKE SURE THERE IS ROOM FOR YOUR QUEEN TO LAY BROOD!
In each box that your queen has brood (or is allowed to lay brood if you are using a queen excluder), there should be 6-7 full frames of area for her to lay brood. These brood frames will be located in the middle of the box with 1-2 frames of honey/pollen on each end of the box. There can be a little honey in the upper corners of each frame, but just a little. If the honey is coming all the way down to the bottom and is getting wide on the sides of the brood, it is encroaching on the brood space. Take our honey frames and give them room for brood. Too little brood space will give the bees the urge to swarm, and they can create a swarm queen in 2 weeks. Going in every 2 weeks and checking for swarm cells and overcrowding is quite helpful from now till the end of May.

When you look at the top of box, there may be comb built on the box. It often gets opened up when you take the box above off, revealing honey and larva. In the picture of my hive to the right, it is drone larva, which is bigger than the worker larva. Remove all this extra comb on top of the frames. It means they are feeling crowded and will make them feel more spacious if you remove it. They can then rebuild it, instead of building queen swarm cells!

2. Empty bottom box?
The bees are moving upwards at this time of year and will keep laying brood higher and higher. You may find that your bottom box is empty, or nearly empty. In this case, it’s good to move the bottom empty box up above so that it’s above where the brood is being laid. Then, the bees will move upwards into it and fill it with brood. It will make them feel spacious. In my hive, my bottom box had brood in the top half of the frames and pollen stored in the bottom half and around the brood. When that brood hatches out, they may not replace it, and I will switch my boxes as described above.

3. Look out for swarm queen cells
Look for swarm queen cells. They look like peanuts and are located on the bottom of frames OR on the bottom 1/3 of a frame. If you see a peanut cell, look inside (see if there is a larva inside or if it is capped). It may be empty and not in use at all. If you find some occupied, you can cut them out and kill them. You may have to look at every brood frame to find them. You can also take a swarm queen cell/frame with it on it and make a new hive with it.

Warning: There can also be queen cells located on the top 2/3rd of a frame. These are supersedure queen cells. I recommend not touching them. The bees make these when they want to replace their queen or have insurance against a failing queen. Many a beekeeper, including myself, have cut out all queen peanut cells (swarm and supersedure ones) and then found themselves without a queen.

Lastly, you can remove swarm queen cells, but just as important, you need to make room for brood (see point #1 above) and give the bees work to do (e.g. building out beeswax comb) to distract them from making more queen cells.

4. Make room for the honey flow
There has been honey flowing off and on since the beginning of January where my hive is in the Fruitvale district. I took out 3 frames to extract honey from yesterday, and replaced with empty frames. I leave the other 7 frames for them in case of rain/cold weather. It’s about time for me to add a whole empty super. The bees don’t seem to be building out a lot of wax right now, though this should change soon, so better to put on a box with frames you’ve used before and the wax is build out. They can easily just fill it with honey.

You can also checkerboard when adding a super box to a hive with a super box full of honey. Make it so that each box is half honey and half empty frames. But alternate frames, so one is honey, the next is empty, etc.

5. Drone Comb Frame
It’s time for putting in drone comb frames to reduce your mite population. It goes 3rd frame in from the outside in a brood box. We sell drone comb frames w/instructions at the BioFuel Oasis, and you can also make them yourself. Mites prefer drone brood and multiple much more in it. 21-28 days after you put it in, you go into your hive and cut out the drone comb (feed to your chickens) and it reduces your mite load substantially.

My bees had not filled in the drone comb frame that I had put in in January. It was in my bottom box which doesn’t have that much brood in it as they are moving up. They instead have commandeered the 3rd frame in the top brood box to lay a bunch of drone brood in, and so I cut it out.

6. Count Your Mites!
Ideally do the sugar roll test for mites, described below. Many people describe that their bees disappear during the winter, but it is likely from mites. Assessing for mites during the winter will give you more information if your bees die over the winter. Even if you are not going to do anything about the mites, it is helpful information for the whole bee community to have. If your mite count is high, but then goes down, it could indicate you have bees with a behavior that gets rid of mites (or it could coincide with a break in brood, which reduces mites).

If you need help learning to do the sugar roll test, I can be encouraged with good food or other trade or I suppose money, to come over and help you do it on your hive. It’s not hard, just intimidating, until you’ve done it a couple times. You can also take the varroa mite class in April.

I got 9 mites in January, and 13 mites yesterday with the sugar roll. The number is getting pretty high and my hive could crash, especially because my brood pattern is not as good as it could be. I will likely use the organic method Mite Away Quick Strips in the next 1-2 weeks.

7. Small Hive Beetles
Lastly, small hive beetles have now been spotted in the Bay Area. They can wreak havoc on your hive and slim up your honey (yuck!). We do have very cheap traps at the BioFuel Oasis and you can make traps yourself out of cd cases. Something to be on the look-out for.

January Backyard Beekeeping in the East Bay!
I usually focus on the month and what you can be doing in your hive. However, THIS is NO January weather that I’ve ever seen. When I went into my hive this past Sunday, it felt like a sunny April day with a gentle warm breeze. The bees were happy and I did a very thorough hive inspection. So, I am going to talk about what I saw and am doing in my hive. In week or two, we could have a huge rain storm (Please!) or some cold weather and then this advice doesn’t apply. But if you can go into your hive during this warm weather, please do. There is a chance of rain Saturday, but Sunday looks quite warm again (65 degrees). Notice when your hive is in full sun and the day is hottest (likely between noon and 3pm), and go in then. The bees will be peaceful and allow you to do a hive inspection.

1. Check out how much brood you have.
My bees came from a Randy Oliver NUC from April of 2012. They behave like Italian bees, which means they don’t shrink their brood down in our winters. If you know you have carniolians or Russian bees, they will shrink down their brood very small or go broodless in the winter. If you don’t know, you likely have Italians. My bees have a lot of brood (e.g. 15 frames worth), including drone brood (often not seen this early). If your colony has less than 5 frames of brood (right now in this January and not other Januarys), I’d be worried about them dying out – definitely do the sugar roll mite test and see if that’s the reason why.
The additional thing you are looking for is the quality of the laying pattern of the brood. It means the brood is filling the middle of the frame in an oval, without a lot of patches without brood.

2. Assess how much honey and pollen is stored in the hive.
My hive had lots of each, so I’m not feeding. If they have less than 5 frames of honey and you can’t find pollen stored around the brood, then you should consider feeding (sugar water for honey and protien pollen patties for pollen).

3. Make room for brood.
If your hive is big like mine, it’s likely they will have stored a lot of honey and pollen. And the honey and pollen may be encroaching on the brood nest, like mine was. Usually the outside-most frames in a box with brood will have honey and then second frame from the outside will have some pollen/honey and possibly brood on the inside. Honey can also be encroaching in on the corners of the brood in the middle frames. My brood nest was a little small, so I took out a frame or two in each brood box and put in an empty frame (with built-out comb) so they felt spaciousness. Robert MacKimmie is talking about Spring Management at the February Alameda Bee meeting and promises to talk about the “Urge to Swarm.” Giving them space (and something to do) lowers that urge. Note that the space is around the brood, so for example, adding an empty super box on top, doesn’t help much. I know it’s ridiculous to talk about swarms in January, but we’ll have swarms in February if this weather keeps up.

4. Put a drone comb frame in for mite control.
It would normally be too early for this too, but since I saw drone brood, I added in my drone comb frame. It goes 3rd frame in from the outside in a brood box. We sell drone comb frames w/instructions at the BioFuel Oasis, and you can also make them yourself. Basically you go in 28 days later and cut out the drone comb (feed to your chickens) and it reduces your mite load substantially. Mites prefer drone brood and multiple much more in it.

5. Assess for varroa mites.
Ideally do the sugar roll test for mites, described below. My new year resolution is take make it easy for people to learn and do this test. It is the most accurate way to figure out if your hive is in danger of dying from a mite infestation. A hive can “look great” but be infested with mites and die in 2 months or less. Many people describe that their bees disappear during the winter, but it is likely from mites. Assessing for mites during the winter will give you more information if your bees die over the winter. Even if you are not going to do anything about the mites, it is helpful information for the whole bee community to have. If your mite count is high, but then goes down, it could indicate you have bees with a behavior that gets rid of mites (or it could coincide with a break in brood, which reduces mites). This year I pledge to put together a whole kit of everything you need to do this test, so it is easy. We already have test jars and instructions.

December Backyard Beekeeping in the East Bay!
In past years I haven’t gone into my hive in the winter, but with our mild winters here, it is good to do. This week is cold, so don’t go in now. If you want to go in, wait for a warm sunny day that’s about 60 degrees. It’s also best to go in at the time in the afternoon when the hive is in full sun. Eucalyptus and Manzanita trees will flower in December and January so if you are close to the East Bay hills, your bees could be making a lot of honey at some point during this time. On the other side of the spectrum, you are looking for a failing hive, so either you can try to save it or at least know what went wrong if it dies. If you do a hive inspection or two this month, here is a short checklist of what you are looking for:

1. Is your wood hive the appropriate size for the amount of bees in there?
If you go in on a sunny day, there should be a lot of bees filling up all your boxes. If not, then consolidate and remove a box. On cold nights like tonight, an overly big wood hive will be too large for a smaller cluster of bees to keep warm.
If there is a Eucalyptus or Manzanita flow on, you could experience your hive being packed with brood and honey and bees, and need to add a box. This second option is less likely, but keep an eye out.

2. Assess for varroa mites.
Ideally do the sugar roll test for mites, described in many of my previous emails. It is the most accurate way to figure out if your hive is in danger of dying from a mite infestation. You can also look for crawlers around the entrance/on the ground that have deformed wing virus, but this probably means that it is too late to help your hive (the infestation is quite high). A hive can “look great” but be infested with mites and die in 2 months or less. Many people describe that their bees disappear during the winter, but it is likely from mites. Assessing for mites during the winter will give you more information if your bees die over the winter. You will know if they die from mites or not.

3. If your hive is weak/small, look what could be the problem.
– Assess for mites (see above).
– Look for good-looking frames of brood to make sure you have a queen and she is laying well.
– Are there wax moths, hive beetles, ants in your hive? These could just be symptoms of a weak hive, but you can help your bees by clearing these pests out, setting beetle traps, putting water moats around your hive stand legs to keep the ants out, etc.
There may not be a lot to do about a weak hive at this time of year. For example, using Mite Away strips can only be done when the weather is above 50 degrees and when you have a bee cluster of at least 6 brood frames. It’s a reminder that next year, the best time to take action is in September and October to ensure your hive survives the winter.

4. Feed your bees.
If you have less than 5-10 full frames of honey in the hive, feed your bees sugar water. If you don’t see any stored pollen (or very little) in the hive around the brood, feed your bees protein patties.

SEPTEMBER Backyard Beekeeping in the East Bay!
The dearth of food intensifies with the lack of rain, depending on where you are. Pepper trees and fennel can be a source of food right now. The beehives are stressed. Keep tabs on any problems – lack of queen, high varroa mites, lack of food, robber bees, ants and correct asap before it kills your hive. The bees are moving their brood nest down into the hive.

First read my August newsletter as you will be continuing the things I recommend there. Everything in there just intensifies, so here are highlights about what to do now during a hive inspection:

1. Feed your bees protein patties and possibly sugar water too.
The nurse bees that will raise the bees that will live through the winter are being raised now. To ensure these bees are healthy, feed your bees protein patties (a pollen subsitute). We sell Megabee at the Oasis, but you can also mix your own by looking at Randy Oliver’s Everything But the Kitchen Sink Recipe. Leave 5-10 frames of honey in the hive, so they have food and possibly feed them sugar water as well. If they need it, they will eat it.

2. Reduce your entrance on the hive.
Your hive is shrinking down in size, and can’t protect the full length of the entrance. Put an entrance reducer on the hive, so they can protect easier against robber bees and wasps/yellow jackets. You can also buy a Country Rubes robbing screen from us, for extra protection, particularly if your hive is very weak/small.

3. Take off a box (reduce size of hive) by end of this month.
If you open up your top cover and there are few bees and very few bees in the top box, this means that your bee population is shrinking and not filling up the hive. When this happens, the optimal thing to do it to consolidate frames – leave the bees all the honey and take off a box with all (or mostly) empty frames. This likely means moving frames around among boxes. Normally you will overwinter with 2 or 3 boxes of bees (or 1-2 boxes less than what your hive contained in June at its largest size). By shrinking the boxes to the size of your bees, it will make it easier for them to defend and also easier to keep warm. They keep their brood around 95 degrees.

4. Take action on varroa mites.
It’s not too late to wipe out your mites. If your hive is in Berkeley or North or West Oakland, it’s likely your bees have a high level of mites because of the concentration of hives here. That is what I am seeing so far. Hives farther out (Fruitvale, Pinole, etc.) seems to have less mites.
a. Do the sugar roll test for varroa mites.
While looking at the brood in your hive, find a frame with half capped and half uncapped brood. Make sure the queen is not on either side. Then do the sugar roll test for varroa mites. You will find out exactly how many mites you have in 300 bees.
b. If above 4 mites or more, you want to take action now to reduce the load (either formic acid strips or powder-sugaring the hive), before the mite load increases and the bees get viruses, etc. We sell the test jars (with instructions) and formic acid strips at the BioFuel Oasis.
c. If you don’t feel comfortable doing the sugar roll test, then powder sugar your hive. Powder sugaring takes off half the mites everytime you do it and always gives me satisfaction to count the mites that fall off and visually see the results of my work. I don’t suggest doing the Mite Away formic acid, unless you know for sure (through the sugar roll test) that you have high mites.

5. As always, make sure there is healthy brood in your hive (& therefore a healthy queen).
Read more in the August newsletter.

AUGUST Backyard Beekeeping in the East Bay!
In August, the food supply for the bees has greatly decreased because of lack of rain, and this dearth will continue till the October rains and in some sense till January/February. The size of the bee population follows the food supply, so the bees in your hive will be producing less brood and decreasing in size. This begins the time when varroa mites can overtake your hive and eventually kill it off during the winter. In spring you are trying to keep ahead of the bees by adding boxes and making sure they have space. In late summer/fall, you are keeping tabs on their population decline. In response you are taking off a box as they decrease. You are also keeping them healthy: keeping the mite level in check, making sure you have a healthy queen, ensuring they have food, and protecting against robbing.

The bees can also be testy at this time of year because of lack of food. So, it’s even more important to go in on a warm, sunny days 62 degrees and above with the beehive in full sun. If you go in on a foggy day, they will be even more defensive as usual and you may not be able to do a full hive inspection. Wait for the proper weather.

Things to do during a hive inspection:

1. Be prepared to take off a box (reduce size of hive).
If you open up your top cover and there are lots of bees, then it is not time to shrink the hive down. If you open up your top cover and there are few bees and very few bees in the top box, this means that your bee population is shrinking and not filling up the hive. This will likely not happen till mid-August or September, but start watching for it. When this happens, the optimal thing to do it to consolidate frames – leave the bees all the honey and take off a box with all (or mostly) empty frames. This likely means moving frames around among boxes. This can be tricky, and I will show you how in the September Preparing Your Hive for Winter class.

2. Assess your varroa mite population and take action if too high.
This is your chance to nip it in the bud and keep it in check.
a. Do the sugar roll test for varroa mites.
While looking at the brood in your hive, find a frame with half capped and half uncapped brood. Make sure the queen is not on either side. Then do the sugar roll test for varroa mites. You will find out exactly how many mites you have in 300 bees. If above 4 mites or more, you want to take action now to reduce the load (either formic acid strips or powder-sugaring the hive), before the mite load increases and the bees get viruses, etc. We sell the test jars (with instructions) and formic acid strips at the BioFuel Oasis.
b. Remove drone comb frames if you have any in. The bees will be stopping making drone brood now. You can add these again in February to reduce varroa mites.

3. Make sure there is healthy brood in your hive.
Lots of brood means you have a healthy queen. There is no need to see her. Verify you have uncapped brood and/or eggs in your hive. Also make sure that there are full frames of nearly solid brood (capped or uncapped) – this means the queen has a good laying pattern. If you have almost no brood or you only have drone brood which looks bigger, then you likely don’t have a queen. Now is the time to get a healthy queen and correct this problem. One thing to do is to add a frame of brood (make sure there are eggs in it) from one of your other hives (or from another beekeeper) and your queenless bees will be able to raise another queen from an egg.

4. Ensure your bees have food.
I was taught to always leave the bees with a full box of honey (this means 9-10 frames filled with honey, mostly or all capped). I don’t remove any honey at this time of year but leave it for them. I normally will remove honey at the end of September or in October if there is more than 9-10 frames of honey in the hive. I will take the excess so I can shrink down the hive by a box. Therefore, I recommend:
a. Leave honey in so they have plenty of food. If there isn’t a lot of honey in the hive, then feed them sugar water.
b. Consider starting to feed your bees pollen patties. I definitely recommend this in September. We sell them at the BioFuel Oasis.
c. Make sure they have a water supply in your yard. It is very dry the next couple months so put out some dishes with pebbles in them or a bucket with floating corks and see if your bees are finding them.

5. Make sure your hive is healthy and strong.
If there are ants invading your hive or a lot of wax worms/insects inside your hive, this is an indication that your hive is not strong and action is needed. Check your varroa mite load and make sure you have a healthy queen. Find the source of the problem and correct it as soon as possible.
If there are few bees going in and out of your hive on a sunny day, put an entrance reducer or better yet a robbing screen on the entrance to prevent robbing of the hive by other bees.

JUNE Backyard Beekeeping in the East Bay!
June is still a period of abundance for the bees but it is slowing down and will end in July. Now is the time to take care of problems or issues, as there will be real problems in July and August when food becomes more scarce. In hive inspections, look for healthy brood, do the varroa mite test this month and treat if it’s high, harvest honey if there is a lot, and put in empty frames for them to build out.

When do I do a hive inspection?
Between noon and 3pm on a sunny, warm day 62 degrees and above (without a cold wind).
Why? A significant amount of bees will be out foraging and the bees will be less defensive. They will be happy, you won’t get stung, and you will continue beekeeping. If you go in on a foggy, cloudy, or cold day, the bees will be defensive, baby bees (brood) may be killed due to being exposure to cold, you may be stung, and may discontinue beekeeping, not want to do a hive inspection again.
Wait for the proper weather and rearrange your schedule to jump in on a sunny day.

This is what to be looking for in a hive inspection:

1. Make sure there is healthy brood in your hive.
Lots of brood means you have a healthy queen. There is no need to see her. Verify you have uncapped brood and/or eggs in your hive. Also make sure that there are full frames of nearly solid brood (capped or uncapped) – this means the queen has a good laying pattern. If you have almost no brood or you only have drone brood which looks bigger, then you likely don’t have a queen. Now is the time to get a healthy queen and correct this problem. One thing to do is to add a frame of brood (make sure there are eggs in it) from one of your other hives (or from another beekeeper) and your queenless bees will be able to raise another queen from an egg.

2. Do the sugar roll test for varroa mites.
While looking at the brood in your hive, find a frame with half capped and half uncapped brood. Make sure the queen is not on either side. Then do the sugar roll test for varroa mites. You will find out exactly how many mites you have in 300 bees. If above 4 mites or more, you want to take action now to reduce the load (either formic acid strips or powder-sugaring the hive), before the mite load increases in July and August and the bees get viruses, etc. We sell the test jars (with instructions) and formic acid strips at the BioFuel Oasis.

3. Honey!
If your hive has overwintered and there is an abundance of honey – harvest some frames of honey that is capped on both sides. Move the capped frames to the top box and to the outside of supers, and moved unfinished frames into the center so the bees will fill them with honey. Major food sources right now are avocado trees, blackberries, buckwheat, California pepper tree, toyon, and fennel. If you have a lot of them near you, keep on top of adding supers so your bees have room to make more honey.

4. Get comb drawn out.
This is your last chance to get the bees to draw out comb until next spring. So as I’ve said under the honey section, move frames with undrawn out comb into the center of boxes to get the bees to focus on it and draw it out. Focus on boxes with honey (supers) to do this. Moving things around in the brood nest is more complicated than I want to go into and best for beginners to not move brood around without guidance.

5. Use a Drone Comb Frame to keep varroa mites down.
Now is also your last chance to use the drone comb frames for mite reduction/prevention. Go in every 2-3 weeks and if the drone comb is capped, cut it out. We sell a drone comb frame with full instructions (for $6) in our store. Nip those mites in the bud now and save yourself headaches (& work) later on.

Sugar Roll Test Instructions
How: Powdered sugar clogs the mite’s suction pads so can’t hold on.
Frequency: Do 1-2 times/month (every time you go into the hive.)
· Put in 2 TBSPs powdered sugar in quart mason jar and leave off cover in prep for bees.
· Take frame w/ half open brood, half sealed brood.
· Shake it into a box. Tap one corner so all fall into one corner.
· Scoop up a 1/2 cup of bees (300 bees) & put in mason jar.
· Quickly put on lid and shake once to coat bees.
· Let sit for 2 minutes (in shade, not in sun)
· Shake powdered sugar vigorously out through screen (if don’t shake hard enough won’t get mites off) onto plate until powdered sugar is all out.
· Then count mites. Can spray water on powder sugar so mites are more clear.
Mites are reddish brown, a distinctive shape (kind of round-ish), and have little legs (may be moving).

Test results interpretation:
1-3 mites = 1% infestation
4-6 mites = 2% infestation, do a couple of powdered sugaring or 1 strip of formic acid
7-9 mites = 3%
10+ Trouble
50+ questionable that hive will survive
If have 10 or more: Do sugar treatment twice per week for 6-8 weeks or two strips of formic acid.

May your bees be healthy and strong!
Jennifer, Beekeeper & Worker-Owner, BioFuel Oasis Cooperative

April/May Backyard Beekeeping in the East Bay!
April & May are the busiest months for bees (and the beekeeper). If you can do a hive inspection once per week, that’s great. If not, try to get in there every 2 weeks during these months. It is also the time to get new bees, the season of swarms, and the period of honey abundance.

When do I do a hive inspection?
Between noon and 3pm on a sunny, warm day 62 degrees and above (without a cold wind).
Why? A significant amount of bees will be out foraging and the bees will be less defensive. They will be happy, you won’t get stung, and you will continue beekeeping. If you go in on a foggy, cloudy, or cold day, the bees will be defensive, baby bees (brood) may be killed due to being exposure to cold, you may be stung, and may discontinue beekeeping, not want to do a hive inspection again.
Wait for the proper weather and rearrange your schedule to jump in on a sunny day.

How can I still get bees?
I recommend going to one of the bee association meetings (see list at end of email) in the next couple weeks, as people will have bees for sale (swarms they have caught).

For hives that survived the winter, this is what to do in a hive inspection:

1. Make sure there is lots of brood in your hive.
There should be LOTS of brood in your hive at this time of year, if not there is likely something wrong with your hive. Lots of brood means you have a healthy queen. There is no need to see her. Just verify you have uncapped brood and/or eggs in your hive. Also make sure that there are full frames of nearly solid brood (capped or uncapped) – this means the queen has a good laying pattern. If you have almost no brood or you only have drone brood which looks bigger, then you likely don’t have a queen. If your bees just swarmed though, this could be the reason why there is little brood, so check back in a week.

2. Give the bees enough room for brood in the bottom two boxes.
Your brood boxes should have room for 6-7 frames of brood. But the bees can store a lot of honey there instead. Take out honey if it is more than 3 frames in each box, and replace with new frames so they have lots of room. This will prevent their swarm impulse.

3. Give the bees enough room for honey.
Check the super boxes on top. Add an extra box when they have filled up a box 2/3rd full. Check every week. They can fill a super in less than a week during a major honey flow. Harvest honey and put the empty frames back in for refilling.

4. Do the sugar roll test for varroa mites.
You will find out exactly how many mites you have in 300 bees. If above 10 mites, you may want to use Mite Away Quick Strips (formic acid) to help your bees survive. Or you can powder-sugar your hive.

5. Put in a Drone Comb Frame to keep varroa mites down.
Spring is the time to use the drone comb frames for mite reduction/prevention. Go in every 2-3 weeks and if the drone comb is capped, cut it out. We sell a drone comb frame with full instructions (for $6) in our store. Nip those mites in the bud all spring and save yourself powder sugaring later on.

For new bees (package, nucs, swarms) you got this spring, this is what to do in a hive inspection:
Plan to go in every week. If the weather is too cold or foggy and cancels, then at least you will hopefully get in there every 2 weeks. The main thing you are doing is watching if they have filled up the top box to 2/3rds. If so, add another box. You want to grow the hive space as they grow in population. It is likely you will have 3-5 boxes total by July. If you don’t keep up on adding boxes, your bees will likely swarm in June, diminishing your colony’s numbers greatly. Also, check for brood (see #1 above) and do #4 and #5 above concerning Varroa Mites. You also may want to feed your new bees sugar water to help them draw out the wax comb.

May your bees be strong and healthy!
Jennifer, Beekeeper & Worker-Owner, BioFuel Oasis Cooperative

JANUARY Backyard Beekeeping in the East Bay!
We’ve had some warm days (60 degrees plus and sunny). It’s a good idea to go into your hive and check how they survived the winter. Watch around your neighborhood for blossoming trees (cherry, plum) in the next couple weeks as that will start the nectar flow of the year. If you are up in the hills, you could also be experiencing a nectar flow from eucalyptus trees and manzanita.

Here are the most important things to do now:

1. Open up your hive on a warm sunny day:
a. Take a note of how much honey they have in storage. If none (less than a couple frames), you may want to feed them some protein supplement, e.g. Mega Bee.

b. See how many frames of brood they have and where it is. If the brood is all up in the second box and the bottom box is empty, you may want to plan on switching these two boxes in February, once the nectar starts flowing.
Why? The brood is only moving up (not down), so this will enable them to move up in the empty box and feel like they have plenty of room. This will prevent their swarming impulse.

c. Do the sugar roll test for mites. You will find out exactly how many mites you have in 300 bees. If above 10 mites, you may want to use Mite Away Quick Strips (formic acid) to help your bees survive. Or you can powder-sugar your hive.

2. Get your equipment ready.
a. Make sure you have a super box to put on in February (in case your boxes fill up). Build frames/boxes and/or cleanup your frames/boxes.
b. Make or buy a Drone Comb frame to put in the brood box in February to eliminate varroa mites breeding in the drone comb. Nip those mites in the bud all spring and save yourself powder sugaring later on.

VARROA MITES
We are going to have an extensive varroa mite prevention section for backyard beekeepers at the BioFuel Oasis this year. A couple years ago, mites weren’t as much of a problem, but they have killed many of my hives the last two winters. I think with the blossoming of bee hives in the East Bay, the varroa mites are booming as the bees catch them from other hives, and it is now a requisite to actively do varroa mite prevention as part of backyard beekeeping. In April, we’ll be repeating Robert MacKimmie’s varroa mite class, where he covers powder-sugaring, drone comb frames, formic acid treatment, and a quantitative test to determine how many mites are in your hive. He’ll demo some of this on a live hive.

STILL HAVE QUESTIONS?
Come ask me this Wednesday, January 30th, from 4-6pm, and hopefully I can answer more than one person at once!

Happy New Year!
Jennifer, Beekeeper & Worker-Owner, BioFuel Oasis Cooperative

OCTOBER Backyard Beekeeping in the East Bay!
It’s the time of year when there is a shortage of pollen and nectar (for a couple months now), and the bees are preparing for winter. The bees are raising the brood that will be the winter bees and last through January or February. As a beekeeper I’m going into the hive for the last time and am planning to not go in again till the first warm sunny day in February.

Here are the most important things I do now (if you haven’t already!):

1. Put an entrance reducer on the hive (for the entire winter), likely set at the smallest size.
Why? The colony is shrinking in size and doesn’t need the entire entrance. A smaller entrance enables the hive to defend itself better (see robbing discussion below).

2. Leave a full super box of honey on the hive. This means 10 super frames of capped or nearly capped honey.
Why? This ensures they have enough food to survive till February. Honey is the bee’s natural food and gives them much more nutrition than sugar water feeders. I also make sure they have honey down in their brood boxes as well (on the outside of the frames), so they have honey they can easily reach. Commercial beekeepers often feed their bees pollen patties at this time too so their winter bees (baby bees right now being fed pollen) are strong. This is an option for backyard beekeepers as well, which perhaps I’ll get around to “next year.”

3. Shrinking down the hive by one box (normally the top box).
Why? The colony is shrinking and so shrinking down their hive size makes sense, as it gives them a more manageable space to keep warm and to defend.
Specifics: On a full sunny day above 60 degrees from noon – 3pm, open up your hive. If the upper box has very few bees in it, it’s time to take off a box. I normally have two super boxes on my hives in Sept/Oct. I look at each box and consolidate – put all the frames full of capped honey in one box and leave that on the hive, and take out the frames with the least honey (or no honey at all).

4. Do some last powder sugaring of your hive against Varroa mites.
Why? This is your last chance before the rain and cold to go into your hive on warm sunny days and wipe out some more varroa mites.
Specifics: To powder sugar, you must have good ant protection on your hive (legs of stand in water or Tangle Trap on legs), otherwise the powder sugar strongly attracts ants into the hive. You also need a screened bottom board so the powder sugar falls out of the hive.
Video from Country Rubes on powder-sugaring

The two most likely reasons your hive will die over the winter is from starvation or from varroa mites, so I am going to talk about these two issues. But first, I’m going to cover robbing, which can kill off a weak hive right now.

ROBBING
Wasps/Yellow Jackets
I am seeing a couple wasps/yellow jackets around my hive. They eat honey bees and you may see them grab a honey bee off the landing board and drag it off. My hives seem strong and push the wasps off if they get near the landing board. If your hive is weak, you could see more wasps on your landing board.
What to Do: Use an entrance reducer and/or the Country Rubes robbing screen to help your bees defend themselves.

Robber Bees from Other Hives
There is not a lot of nectar right now, so other bee hives may try to steal honey from weaker hives. You will see fights going on on the landing board – literally bees wrestling. Here is a video of honey bees defending hive against a robber bee:

In bad cases of robbing, you will see a lot of activity at the entrance of your hive (more than you’ve seen in months, more like spring-time behavior when your population is high and there is lots of food). It may even look like a swarm, because there are so many bees coming to rob. In this case, you need a robbing screen asap (you can only put on at night). You can also remove honey from the hive, to stop the robbing until you get a screen on. Here is one video about the Country Rube Robbing Screen and another one about a DIY screen to make out of a piece of screen.

STARVATION
If your bees don’t have enough honey (& pollen to feed the baby bees), they will die of starvation. I leave them a full box of honey, so there is no way for this to happen. If you took all your honey, I suggest feeding them honey water rather than sugar water. It’s much more nutritious to them. Herbalist Juliette de Bairacli Levy recommends feeding a syrup of sage honey. Pour nearly boiling water (3 cups) over a ½ cup of finely chopped sage. Keep covered until cools off to warm. Then stir in 4 TBSPs of honey. Add this to a bee feeder.

VARROA MITES
My bee population has been going down for a couple months in response to low food supply. Their population decrease leaves them vulnerable to varroa mites, and the diseases/viruses that the mites pass on to the bees. I haven’t paid attention to mites until this year so I am still learning. I suspect that with the growing amounts of hives in the East Bay, it helps the mite population, as they can jump from bee to bee as they forage. Even if you do something about mites, your bees can catch them from bees where nothing is being done. If your bees are strong and are robbing weak hives, they can also catch a lot of mites right now from the weak hives and bring them back to your hive.

It’s a little late to do something about mites in October. But if you have been powder-sugaring, keep it up while the weather’s warm. Learn more about mites next year. We’ll be repeating Robert MacKimmie’s varroa mite class, where he covers powder-sugaring, drone comb frames, formic acid treatment, and a quantitative test to determine how many mites are in your hive.

STILL HAVE QUESTIONS?
Come ask me this Thursday, Oct. 18th, from 4-6pm, and hopefully I can answer more than one person at once!

Happy Wintering!
Jennifer, Beekeeper & Worker-Owner, BioFuel Oasis Cooperative