Questions I get asked

Q: Yesterday I picked up my bee packages and was surprised that the queen cages had 3 or 4 bees besides the queen in them.  Is this normal? The only other queen cages I have seen had just the queen in them. One problem that I had was not being able to get the plug out of the cages.  I  wound up pushing in the plugs into the cage and filling the holes with marshmallow.  I’m planning to check on Saturday to see if each queen has managed to get out.  If not, I will break open the cage to release her.

A: The packages that I’ve been working with this year have a queen cage that has candy in one end with a cork sealing the hole. The other end has no candy just a cork. All cages had attendant worker bees in with the queen.

The way I install a queen is to remove the cork from the candy end and secure the cage candy end up with the screen facing out between frames. I normally place the cage around the midpoint of the middle frames. If I’m installing a package I shake a good amount of bees over the queen cage so she will be cared for and more importantly, with the weather being a bit cool, kept warm.  You are probably OK with the marshmallow technique as the queen’s smell is known to the bees and she is the only queen they have.

Q: I’m planning on picking up some queens today and installing them in a few days, a much better weather day. What do you think about holding the queens for that long and if it is OK how should they be stored?

A: I usually make a small batch of 1 to 1 sugar water and feed twice per day or a bit more. Something like two tablespoons sugar and two tablespoons water. You don’t need much. I just dip a finger in it and wipe my finger across the screen. Be careful not to wipe across any little bee feet or mouth parts. I keep them in a dark, breathable container. I’ve used paper lunch size bags, and at a reasonable room temperature out of direct sun. Usually on the kitchen counter. They should be good for several days. Some of the attendant bees may die but as long as there’s a few attendants you should be good. A bit of water is also helpful. Same application method. You want to avoid a sticky buildup in the cage so they don’t get trapped. Don’t let drips form on the screen.

Q: It is January. Should I be feeding my bees?

A: I don’t think feeding liquid works in the cold winter months. I add a candy board with protein supplement in late January or early February just to be sure the bees have food when they are at the top of the hive.  They can starve with honey below the cluster. It is also possible to move honey above the cluster but takes a warn day to do so.

Q: What do you do about Small Hive Beetles?

A: I have used traps baited with Apple cider vinegar and oil. More recently I have used Scotch Brite wipes. See photo for details and see the results I get.

Q: How do you mix syrup to feed bees?

A: I buy sugar in 25 pound bags from the local warehouse club. I mix this with hot tap water in a 5 gallon bucket to about 4 1/2 gallons. I add a good shot of home made essential oil supplement and feed.Sometimes I pour over into 1 gallon jugs to make it easy to fill the Boardman feeders I use for Nucs.

Q: When is it too late to treat for mites?

A: I try to treat in mid April before honey flow and again by mid-August. I slide in the mite drop boards for 24  hours then look to see if there is a high mite count: 2 or 3 mites in 24 hours is my upper limit. There should be several brood cycles in the fall after treatment finishes and before the queen stops laying. A brood cycle is 20+ days so 3 cycles is 60 days or about two months. If there are no mites I don’t treat that hive.

Q: What % winter loses is acceptable?

A: My goal is 0% winter loss. I set my sights high and have made a decision to only keep the number of hives that I can manage. That works out to be about 20 full size hives and a few nucs. I lost about 2 last winter, one nuc that starved – totally my fault and a hive that just died with plenty of stores who knows why. I can’t afford to put effort into something with the expectation that it will be time and money wasted.

Q: What do you do to get your hives through the winter?

A:This is the big one. Starting right after I pull honey off in late July or before, I treat for mites. That knocks the mite load down so that worker eggs can turn into worker bees with a much lower parasite count and therefore lower viral load. In August, the mites are on drone brood but will infest worker brood because in hives left untreated, mite counts are increasing and drone counts are decreasing. I have done this for 5 or so years and have seen my winter hive losses drop to zero several years before this last winter when I lost 2 out of 14. After the treatment, I start feeding syrup with my home made essential oils mix and continue feeding until the hive has a full medium on top and a partial medium under it. More recently I am feeding protein supplement outside the hive.

Q: In the winter do you use screened bottom boards, screened inner covers or insulate in any way?

A: I run the hives with screen bottoms open all year long. I keep a venting shim on the hives all year. It has 1/8” screen and a screen covered 1” hole. I don’t use any insulation but the hives are painted a flat medium dark color.