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May - June 2015

June 2, 2015 update

  1. The spring main honey flow is pretty much over in south Huntsville, AL.     My bees are now working wild grape and that is pretty much the last spring flower to bloom in my area that produces surplus honey.     There are others like Sourwood, Linden, Sumac and the like but these are not common in most locations.    Some cotton, soybean and other summer blooming agriculture crops produce surplus honey.     Whether or not the agriculture crop produces surplus honey appears to be related to the genetic modification made to the seeds that produced the plant.  

  2. If you smell an unusual odor in your bee yards right now, it is likely not AFB but wild grape.     Wild grape nectar is quiet good but does smell when the bees are curing it.     If you have wild grape near you, smell the flowers - that is how the bee yard smells when its nectar is being cured.    That is not the case for most other flowers.    By the way, the predominant wild grape (in my area) is not eatable by humans but its nectar is!

  3. A good way to tell that the flow is over or ending is to place raw honey out for the bees to get.     If they pretty much ignore it, the flow is still on.     If they are eager to get at it and may even fight over it, the flow is over or ending.    That also means that if you place wet supers out for the bees to clean and they do not clean them, the flow is still on in your area.

    1. I remove the clinging honey from the cappings when processing honey using a Walter T Kelley Model 386 (THE 386 DOES NOT COME WITH AN EMERSION HEATER You have to buy it separate and is available in either 115 or 230 VAC.) wax melter and a Walter T Kelley Model 199 wax  separator.      I then re-melt the bees wax and strain it again into 35 lb. block molds.     I send the blocks of wax to Dadant and exchange it for beeswax foundation, work it into candles or sell it retail.    Dadant will work your wax into foundation for a "per pound" fee that turns out to be real good deal for the beekeeper.    NOTICE: Dadant does have a 100 lb. minimum order on working wax.

    2. If you use the Model 386, place a couple of steel wool pads in the exhaust chute and it will remove a high percentage of the debris from your wax (This trick courteously Mr. Lonnie Funderburg  an Alabama beekeeper.)

  4. It is time to start harvesting your surplus honey.

  5. It is time to start treating for Small Hive Beetle.

    1. I use up to 4 beetle barns (Rossman Aperies no. M90D) between the inner and outer cover on my hives.    The number used is based on the number of beetles seen.    Place the beetle bait of your choice in the center of the beetle barn, which is a clam shell, and close it.    The Beetle Barns have to be cleaned about every 2 weeks because the bees propolize the opening where the beetles enter.    This is the bees natural defense against the beetles - the bees confine the beetles in places where the beetles go to hide with propolis.

  6. Start harvesting honey now.    The longer you wait to more aggressive the bees will get.    It also reduces the space the bees are required to police against small hive beetle.

  7. Don't forget, as the flow shuts down the bees will more fiercely defend their stores (ie.. they get meaner).

  8. Swarm season is about over but you might still catch a swarm so keep an eye on your "bait hives" and remove and freeze or treat your "old dark comb" with moth crystals (paradichlorobenzene)  to prevent wax moths and small hive beetles from ruining it.

  9. Keep the weeds and grass trimmed in your bee yards, the bees need to move air for ventilation not to mention the beekeeper is less likely to get snake bit!




1.   Keep plenty of empty supers on hives.

2.   Treat your hives for SHB

3.   Do not direct move frames infected with SHB or Wax Moths to other hives without first freezing in a deep freeze 24 hours.

4.   Keep a good constant water supply available.

5.   For supers with foundation, if available use drawn comb frames in the first and last frame position with foundation between.

6.   Make sure hives that swarmed have a queen.

7.   If you move frames of bees from one hive to another make sure the queen is kept in the middle of the frames with her bees.

8.   If a queen is balled, pick up the ball and drop it in a pan of water, then re-cage and re-introduce the queen.

9.   Freeze all comb honey before eating or selling.

10.              Reserve the MCBA extractor in you want to borrow it. 

Details  (Expansion of the above advice)

1.    2015 has not been a good year for honey production in north Alabama.     Spring was late getting here and was either cold, raining or both until the first of May.     Colony popultins, in general are low.    I have had few swarms this spring primarily because most bees are too weak to swarm.    Privet Hedge just started blooming May 5.    Privet is normally a major honey plant, hopefully it will be this spring because it is much needed.

2.   Make sure that you have adequate production supers on (limited storage space i.e... crowded conditions, is a major contributor to swarming). 

3.   Major swarming should be about over and the bees should have settled down and should have the supers near full of honey and still working hard.

4.   If you have a queenless colony, you have several options for corrective action:

a.    Order and install a new queen right away.

b.    Mix with a small queen right swarm using newspaper with the queenless colony.

c.    Mix the queenless colony with a queen right colony.

d.    Give them a frame of brood with eggs from a strong colony.

5.   Keep your eye on any colonies that swarmed.   Since they were queenless just after the swarm, sometimes the young queen does not make it back from her mating flight. 

6.   If you force mixing colonies (mixing direct without paper or direct mixing frames), leave each group as intact as possible and let them mix on their own.   For example, should you decide to move frames from one colony to the other, move them as a group (one frame at a time but keep in the same sequence) keeping the queen in the center of her own bees.    Don’t mix frames.    If kept together as a group, a colony will protect its own queen.   If you expose one queen directly to the other colony, they will often times kill her.    If the two groups are allowed to mix “on their own”, this is much less likely to happen.    (if each colony has a queen, you probably do not want to mix)

7.   When bees reject a new queen, they get in a ball with the queen in the center and kill her (this called "balling the queen").    If you suspect this might happen, take a pan of water with you to the hive.   If the bees start balling the queen, pick up the ball and drop it in the pan of water.    The bees will swim for their lives.    You can then pick up the queen, put her in a queen cage and reintroduce her by your favorite method. 

8.   Put on supers and keep an eye on them and add more supers as needed.    A strong colony will fill a super much faster than you might think so check them often during the peak honey flow.     MAKE SURE YOU HAVE ADEQUATE SUPERS ON YOUR HIVES.    Empty supers in the honey house will make you no honey!    I never get an ounce of honey from a super stored in the honey house

9.   I super my strong colonies heavily in early March, then as the flow develops, I redistribute as required.   A large colony that swarms will have excess supers, I move them to the colonies that did not swarm. 

10.              Get your labels on order. 

11.              Get your jars on order (If you are an MCBA member and you buy from Dodson Farms in Columbia, TN, be sure and mention that you are a member of the MCBA so as to avoid sales tax).    Jason (Dodson) will ask you to sign the receipt verifying that you are an MCBA member (and may require that you present a valid MCBA membership card).    Signing the receipt is a state law - he has to do it this way in order for you to avoid Tennessee state sales Tax!    Your sales receipt will show the MCBA as the customer.     

12.               If you are a small operator, develop a method of extracting your honey.    (If you are an MCBA member, and would like to use the MCBA loaner extractor, contact Rick Walls to make arrangements to use the extractor as soon as possible

13.              Keep weeds cut in front to hives.   (This reduces the possibility of snake bite and provides the ventilation needed to cure honey). 

14.              Put comb honey supers on your strongest colonies.   Really big swarms are the best wax builders and are therefore good comb honey producers.

a.    Use 10 frames for comb honey - it fits in the jar better for chunk honey (cut comb foundation is recommended but not required).

b.    (A note for harvest time) Remember that comb honey should be left in a deep freeze for 48 hours before it is sold or consumed to kill the lesser wax moth eggs. 

15.              Number of frames recommended:

a.    Brood Chamber - use 9 or 10 frames.    I use 10 but many prefer to use 9, I find that starting with 10 and when drawn and filled remove one and re-space the remaining nine.    This makes working the colony easier and reduces the likelihood of rolling the queen as you remove a frame.

b.    For comb Honey use 10 frames.

c.    Extracted honey use 9 frames if foundation.    Most sources recommend that you use 10 frames if all foundation.    I have used 9 for at least 35 years and never had a problem HOWEVER, I use bees wax foundation.    9 frame plastic foundation supers may be problematic especially if the plastic is not bees wax coated.    I have virtually no experience with plastic foundation and therefore can not make recommendations for its use.     I am not condemning its use, I just do not have adequate experience with plastic to offer advice.

                                     i.    If drawn comb is available put a drawn frame in positions 1 and 9 with foundation between.    This seems to draw the bees up into the foundation supers quicker.    If you have both foundation frames and drawn combs frames in one super, I recommend that you keep the foundation frames all together and the drawn combs likewise, never alternate the two as this will almost always result in super thin foundation frames and very thick drawn combs at harvest time.

d.    Extracted honey use 8 frames if drawn comb but never if foundation.

                                     i.    Fewer frames yield thicker combs.    Thick combs are easier to “un-cap” for extraction however there is a limit as to how few you can use.    Too few frames or too much open space will almost always result in "bridge comb" (bridge comb is comb going the wrong way between frames) or extra combs hanging between frames.  

16.              Most beekeepers put their foundation supers on first because the bees are more apt to draw it out at the beginning of the flow.    I concur with that theory but disagree with the results.   My goal is to produce honey not draw foundation.    I also find bees more apt to swarm with foundation immediately above the brood than with empty drawn cells.

a.    It is common knowledge that bees will not draw comb unless they need it for brood or to store honey and or pollen.   If foundation supers are put on last, the bees will normally fill every empty cell below the foundation before moving up on it.   That means more cured and capped honey for me and if the bees need the space, they have it available and will then draw it out.    Caution do not leave foundation supers on after the flow is over in the fall as the bees will often cut it to ribbons and use it elsewhere.   They are likely to do some of that anyhow. 

b.    In effect this provides beekeeper managed expansion space.

17.              If you have dark comb, that has been store with moth crystals (PDB - Paradichlorobenzene), they MUST be aired out well before putting on live beehive.    If you cannot smell PDB fumes, directly on the comb surface they should be OK.

18.              As the summer heats up, watch for Small Hive Beetles.    They are much worse in weak colonies.     If you find a colony that is already infested, take the infested frames (with SHB larvae) and place them in a deep freeze for a couple of days to kill the eggs, larvae and adult beetles.   

a.    As an alternative, you can also treat with moth crystals (Paradichlorobenzene - PDB) just as you would for Wax Moths.   

b.    Also, SHB larvae will die quickly if exposed to direct hot sunlight.    Just make sure that the larvae cannot escape onto (and  then into) the ground.

19.              If you lose a colony and the frames have SHB in any stage, DO NOT mix it with a stronger hive before first freezing or fumigating with PDB as this can cause you to lose the strong hive. 

20.              If you have extra frames with pollen, do not store them in an active hive (unless you know that it needs pollen) as this is prime bait for SHB.    Instead, store it in a deep freeze until needed.

21.              To date, I know of no defense against SHB except to keep strong hives.

22.              SHB will “slime” frames of honey.     If you find “slimed” frames of honey, freeze them, and then return them to a strong hive and they will clean the honey up (remove the slime).     Never ever do this without freezing first.


1.   What you should be seeing now

a.    Frequent orientation flights.    These are young bees graduating from house bees to field bees.

b.    Lots of activity at the entrance.

c.    Hauling pollen.

d.    The bees should be very gentle.

e.    Caution – this will change once the flow is over.

f.     If you see lots of drones later in the season, check for a bad queen or laying workers.

2.   General comments:

a.    If you had bees on Canola (Rape Seed), if possible, extract the Canola (Rape Seed) honey as soon after the plant stops blooming as possible else you may have thick "milky colored" honey that is difficult to extract.    It is "milky" in color because it is starting to crystallize. 

b.      Soybeans may or may not make a honey crop.   In the past it has been my experience that the (bluish bloom – long season, I think) makes surplus honey while the (white bloom – short season, I think) produces less if any however due to new GM plants the rule no longer seems to apply and you may or may not get surplus honey from either color.

                                               i.     Long season beans are normally planted when cotton is planted while short season beans are planter after winter wheat.    However I was recently told by a local farmer that some farmers are planting short season beans early so as to have mature beans before the normal hot, dry summer.


Last updated 6/2/15 brf

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