Chemicals & Bees Get Along?

A colony of Italian honeybees at the entrance of one of my Bluebird Gardens bee hives.

A colony of Italian honeybees at the entrance of one of my Bluebird Gardens bee hives.

Do Chemicals and Bees Get Along

 “I have been using chemicals on my garden plants for years. Can I add honeybees?” – Jordan

Overuse of chemicals in home gardens is one of the leading causes of bee decline in North America, along with loss of plant diversity and pests and diseases, the main culprit being the vampire-like varroa destructor mite.

You don’t want to get honeybees only to have them die from chemical exposure so if I had to give you a direct answer, I would not recommend it.

Depending on what chemicals you have been using, residue will remain in your plants and soil and affect whatever bees you bring in.

Have you seen any other pollinators, such as butterflies and native bees in your garden? If not, then that should tell you once and for all the conditions are not safe for honeybees.


When to Start Winter Bee Feeding

Bluebird Gardens honeybees eating a homemade sugar patty in winter on the top of their hive.

Bluebird Gardens honeybees eating a homemade sugar patty in winter on the top of their hive.

When to Start Winter Bee Feeding

"....I enjoy reading your columns about beekeeping. I live in southwest Missouri, when should I start winter feeding my bees? I have four hives...." -- Sarah

Thanks, Sarah, glad you enjoy my beekeeping adventures, I also enjoy hearing from other beekeepers.

Hopefully your hives went into winter with a medium super full of honey. I winter my colonies in one deep and one medium, and if they are all mediums in three medium supers. Fall of 2016, however, was record warm. I noticed my bees were out for much longer than usual so I gave them sugar patties in their top feeding shims just in case.

Sure enough, by Christmas 2016, when the temperature was 60F, I found several colony clusters were already into their second box, having consumed their honey during the earlier warm days when they were out flying around with little to do.

In the past, I haven't added those sugar patties until end of January and early February so the key is to monitor weather and bee activity. I don't open my hives up once they have them sealed for winter but I do peek under the inner cover and locate the cluster by holding my hand over the frames to find the heat the cluster generates. That way I know where to place the sugar patties so as the cluster moves up, they will find the extra food immediately over them.

My honeybees like to raid my bird feeders from pollen from the cracked corn I add to seeds.

My honeybees like to raid my bird feeders from pollen from the cracked corn I add to seeds.

I also don't usually give them bee pollen substitute until mid-February but this year, with late December temperatures so warm, I found them raiding the pollen in bird feeder cracked corn so I also broke out the pollen sub for them.

The queen won't start laying until daylight starts to get longer, after the winter solstice December 21. With the weather so warm this year, I have a feeling the bees starting raising young ones early, which will require them to keep the inside hive temperature closer to 90F. Without larvae, they can keep the inside hive temperature a little cooler, between 70-80F. That means they are going to need more energy to keep that hive warm and toasty for the nursery.

So to answer your question, if you haven't added sugar patties yet, do so at the next warming window. Based on what I hear from other area beekeepers, the bees may need it sooner than later this winter.

I would much rather they have enough honey to pull them through but I also won't let them starve if I can help it.

Let me know what you find out once you have a warm-enough day to peek under the hive "hood."  I will be doing the same thing!



Gift Suggestion for Beekeeping Girlfriend

An electric un-capping knife makes harvesting honey a breeze.

An electric un-capping knife makes harvesting honey a breeze.

"My girlfriend is a beekeeper so she has the hives and uniform and all of the basic equipment. Is there something special I can get her for Christmas she would appreciate?" -- Jack

Gift Suggestion for Beekeeper Girlfriend

Hi Jack,

Do you happen to know if she has something that looks like the knife in the photo? That's an electric un-capping knife that makes harvesting honey easier and would make a very nice gift idea for your beekeeping friend. 

It's the kind of piece of equipment beekeepers tend to skip buying but once they have it, they wonder how they ever did without it. 

If you can't get it shipped in time, copy a picture of the item and add it to a card with a note that says you will help her carry the hive bodies when she's ready to extract. She will love having you help her, I guarantee.

Merry Christmas!



Top Beekeeping Gift Idea

Leather gloves are important beekeeping safety equipment, these have been well worn.

Leather gloves are important beekeeping safety equipment, these have been well worn.

"If you had one beekeeping gift idea, what would it be?" -- Cheryl

Top Beekeeping Gift Idea

Hi Cheryl, my top beekeeping gift idea is a good pair of goat leather beekeeping gloves. You can find them at most farm and home centers that carry basic beekeeping equipment. If they don't have goat skin, then cow leather will work, the idea is you want gloves made from something that will make it hard for a bee to sting through it.

You certainly can give bee hives and tools but a pair of gloves is not only special but personal. Every beekeeper should have a pair of these heavy duty leather beekeeping gloves as part of their safety equipment. Not all beekeepers use them all of the time but when they are needed, there is no other substitute.

Local Honey Jar

If you want to add a little something more, or looking for something for a stocking, how about a jar of honey from one of your local beekeepers. 

A hive tool is another basic beekeeper's tool, no beekeeper ever has too many.

A hive tool is another basic beekeeper's tool, no beekeeper ever has too many.

Beekeeper Hive Tool

Another gift option is to add a beekeeper's "hive tool," the basic metal shaped tool to open hives and move frames. Every beekeeper needs at least 2 because inevitably one is left in the garden, or worse yet, inside a hive, and we really can't do much without one.

If you are buying for someone starting out, you can't go wrong with picking one that fits your gift budget. 

Ship Overnight after December 10

Some suppliers may also be able to get you a pair shipped in time for Christmas. After December 10, I recommend shipping overnight since shipping carriers are very busy with orders and they can't guarantee delivery by Christmas after December 10.

And no, a good pair of gardening gloves will not work well for beekeeping, trust me.

Merry Christmas!


Can She Give Her Brother Bees for Christmas?

One way to give your brother bees for Christmas is to put a gift certificate in a package with bees on it.

"Hi, my brother wants to keep bees. Can I give my brother bees for Christmas?" -- Cynthia

Can She Give Her Brother Bees for Christmas

Hi Cynthia, 

If you are asking if you can give your brother real live bees this time of year, sorry, the honeybees are inside their hives clustering to stay warm and shouldn't be opened or moved. The only possible way I could imagine you getting live bees for your brother is if you knew a beekeeper who was selling bees and was willing to try to move them for you. I don't know of anyone and don't recommend it.

One Option Is to Order Bees For Delivery Next Year

One option to give your brother real bees is you could order them and give your brother a gift card in the shape of a bee with your ordering information. Since you live in Missouri, try Tim Moore at Honey Hive Farms, they should still have a package of bees you can order for around $100. They will be delivered mid-spring next year so you can pick the bees up at one of their many drop-off points around the state. 

There are other places you can order bees, I suggest Honey Hive Farms because I have purchased from them in the past and was very happy with their bees. Whatever you do, only order from Missouri beekeepers, you want to get local bees.

Give Your Brother a Class in Basic Beekeeping

Another way to give your brother bees for Christmas is to give him a class in beginning beekeeping. As a beekeeper, there are things he will need to know to successfully keep bees. you You will find a consolidated list of upcoming classes on the Missouri State Beekeepers Association website. Eastern Missouri Beekeepers are offering a beginning beekeepers class February 11, 2017 in Fenton, Missouri, you will find more details on their website.

Chocolate Hershey Hug Bees

You can also give your brother some chocolate bees made out of Hershey Hugs. I developed these a few years back as a gift for my beekeeping friends. They are easy to make and fun to give.. Try not to sample too many as you're making them! :)

Good luck and Merry Christmas!



Can You Help Me Identify This Plant?

Can You Help Me Identify This Plant?

"My bees and butterflies are all over this plant. We almost pulled it up as a weed. Can you help me identify what it is?" -- Dave

Serrated leaf edges help with this plant identification.

Serrated leaf edges help with this plant identification.

One more photo of the flowers:

A native Missouri wildflower, the compass flower.

A native Missouri wildflower, the compass flower.

That's a compass plant, a Missouri wildflower that grows 8 feet tall.

According to Missouri Botanical Garden, compass plant is a Missouri native perennial which occurs in prairies and glades throughout most of the State. It is a tall, sturdy, rough, bristly plant that grows on stiff, hairy, resinous stems to 9' tall. Compass plants feature sunflower-like flowers to 5" wide with yellow rays and yellow center disks.

Flowers bloom in loose spikes on the upper parts of the plant in summer. Very large, deeply pinnatifid cut close to the midrib basal leaves to 18" long are reminiscent of pin oak leaves. Upper leaves are smaller. Basal leaves usually orient themselves on a north-south axis so as to minimize intense overhead sun exposure, thus giving rise to the common name.

Split or broken stems exude a gummy, fragrant-but-bitter resin which was used by Native Americans as a mouth-cleansing chewing gum. Many of the silphiums are commonly called rosinweed.

A gardening friend is giving me a number of starts for my bee garden. Bees love this native!


Keeping Birds & Bees Apart

This homemade bee feeder is keeping bees out of a friend's hummingbird feeder.

This homemade bee feeder is keeping bees out of a friend's hummingbird feeder.

My friend Margaret asked me how to keep bees out of her hummingbird feeder. She took my advice and here is her followup:

"The bees were hanging out at my hummingbird feeder and my hummers couldn't feed. My beekeeping friend, Charlotte Ekker Wiggins, showed me the sugar water saucer in one of her bee hives, saying the bees need the sugar to make their honeycombs. So, I put out a saucer of sugar water to attract the bees away from the hummer feeder. It worked, now the hummingbirds can feed and i have a swarm of bees at the saucer. Man, the bees eat faster than the birds. Enjoying dining al fresco with my birds and my bees!" -- Margaret

Do you have bees getting into your hummingbird feeders?



Bees in Hummingbird Feeders

Honeybees in hummingbird feeder at Bluebird Gardens.

Bees in Hummingbird Feeders

"Bees are keeping my hummingbirds from their feeders. Can you come over and get your bees?" -- Linda

Between  calls and emails, you would have thought bees were taking over the world, or at least mid-Missouri. I don’t blame the callers for being concerned, more and more honeybees are becoming prominent backyard visitors.

At this point in the season, honeybee colonies are at their highest population levels. Bees will fly between 2-4 miles from their home hive looking for food. With record hot temperatures over 90F for several days, plants shut down pollen production leaving bees scrounging for food. Although many colonies have a nice stash of saved honey by now, some will turn to eating their stores if they can’t find other food sources.

Usually this dearth hits Missouri in August. his year, it has been a good month early.

There is a bit of a respite when we have rain. Some rains give plants a boost and plants start producing pollen again. Several days of record hot temperatures once again shuts plants pollen production down. Because we have had an extended hot streak, bees are looking for food in all of the wrong places – hummingbird feeders in particular. They are also reportedly visiting bird baths and swimming pools.

One of the recommendations I have read is to make sure your feeders don’t have anything yellow. The yellow color attracts bees and wasps. If you have hummingbird feeders with yellow flowers, gently pop them out for now. Hummingbirds can still get to the syrup with their long tongues.

Feed Bees Thicker Sugar Water

Of all of the techniques people have suggested, the only one I know that works is feeding bees away from hummingbird feeders. To do, take a plant saucer, or use a bird bath; add rocks and twigs, then sugar syrup made of two parts water to one part sugar. This is twice the concentration of hummingbird syrup, which is four parts water to one part sugar.

Use hot water to dissolve the sugar; then allow to cool before feeding for both bees and hummingbirds.

Place Bee Feeders Away From Hummingbird Feeders

Place the bee feeder away from the hummingbird feeders. You may need to initially place it close to the hummingbird feeders to get the bees attention but once you have buzzing visitors, move it away from bird feeders. Bees will share the new location with their sisters and stay away from the hummingbird feeders as long as you keep the thicker sugar syrup served.

Frankly this active bee stage doesn’t last long. Worker bees only live for six weeks over summer, dying after they wear their wings to shreds. Hot weather tends to shut down the queen laying so colony numbers will soon start to decline getting ready for winter.

Hummingbirds traditionally migrate back to central and south America by mid-September so by the beginning of fall, all we have left to contend with are yellow jackets. These wasp cousins of honeybees are the same size but are ground nesters and repeatedly sting when provoked. Honeybees only sting once and then die.

And sorry, even if the bees bothering your hummingbirds were from my hives, there is little I can do to encourage them to stay home. 




How to Save Remaining Hive from Small Hive Beetles

Frozen frame of wax brings out small hive beetles.

Frozen frame of wax brings out small hive beetles.

"My 2nd year in buzzing and the small hive beetle has wiped out 3 of my 4 hives, please help!" -- Wayne

Charlotte: I am SO sorry, small hive beetles can be devastating. These invasives are originally from sub-Sahara Africa and seem to be thriving this year in mid-Missouri in our record hot summer temperatures. What do you have left in the remaining hive?

Things to Have on Hand as You Inspect

Plastic garbage bags; newspapers or dark sheet; plastic gloves; extra super or nuc box; phone to photograph frames for future reference; small hive beetle traps and mineral oil or swiffer cloths; access to another hive for brood and stores.

If you have plastic gloves from hair products, use those. Gardening gloves may be more flexible than your leather beekeeping gloves.

If you don't have them in your beekeeping arsenal, plan on buying a box of plastic surgery gloves from Dollar stores. They come in handy when you need more finger dexterity. 

Distinct Hive Smell

Whenever you inspect your colonies, the first thing you should always check is the smell of your hive. Does it smell clean or, better yet, like honey?

When looking for small hive beetles, when you open the lid, does it smell like dirty socks? If so, you have small hive beetle larvae in and sliming your frames. They need to be removed as quickly as you can. 

Unlike wax moths, which take over a weak hive, small hive beetles can take over a strong hive within days.

Preparing to Inspect Colony for Small Hive Beetles

First, cover the ground around your hive with cardboard, newspaper, a dark sheet - you want to prevent small hive beetle larvae from falling off frames into soil to pulpate.

Be Prepared to Strike Quickly

Once you have the area around your hive covered, remove your leather gloves and pull on the plastic ones. If you have gentle bees, these gloves will work. The gloves will give you more flexibility as you go after small hive beetles to kill them.

Open your hive back up and be prepared to quickly kill every small black bug you see. They gravitate to dark areas, such as under the telescoping cover, so be prepared to strike as soon as you lift off the cover. Use your hive tool, your gloved hand, whatever is handy and don't be merciful, you need to kill every small hive beetle you come across. 

If you are feeding, also check under your feeder, they also like to congregate there.

I also tend to find small hive beetles themselves in end frames so remove the second frame from the outside, inspect, then be prepared to quickly kill small hive beetles quickly moving around those end frames.

Safeguard Your Queen

Now that you have a little room to move around the hive, find your queen and set her in a nuc or a super box so she's safe while you inspect the rest of your frames. 

Small hive beetles like dark comb to lay eggs. Larvae will crawl out when exposed to sun. This is a frame of brood that had to be frozen to kill small hive beetle larvae.

Small hive beetles like dark comb to lay eggs. Larvae will crawl out when exposed to sun. This is a frame of brood that had to be frozen to kill small hive beetle larvae.

Checking for Small Hive Beetle Larvae

Most people watch only for the black, ladybug-like bugs but those are the ones laying larvae eggs so you need to be merciless looking for, and removing, the larvae.

As you pull out a frame, hold it up to the sun and wait a few seconds. Small hive beetle larvae will start to crawl around outside the wax comb because they don't like the sun exposure. 

If they don't start to show up as you expose the frame to sun, take your hive tool and gently slide the comb aside and see if a bunch of little white worms emerge, that's the larvae. And whatever you do, keep them away from soil. If you happen to drop a few, literally stomp on them and grind them to death or you will just have more small hive beetles next year.

Gently remove bees, then wrap each frame individually in plastic and place in a container with a bottom to prevent small hive beetle larvae from getting away, and check the next frame.

You can stack frames inside a large garbage bag to store before freezing, the frames will help keep comb from globbing together but make sure there is no wax touching to give small hive beetle larvae a place to  hide.

Even if you end up with just a couple frames of brood and a queen, you can start again.

If you have no frames un-infested, borrow a frame of brood and stores from another hive, add the queen and treat the colony as a new start.

Small hive beetle-infested frames in my refrigerator freezer in garbage bag.  

Small hive beetle-infested frames in my refrigerator freezer in garbage bag.


Freeze Small Hive Beetle-Infested Frames

What to do with those plastic-wrapped, small hive beetle-infested frames? Freeze frames for 2-3 days. I have a top freezer in my refrigerator. Six deep frames will fit at once, or 12 medium frames.

Don't forget to tell your family members what's in the freezer.

Working with Remaining Live Frames

Keep the remaining frames in a nuc and close the entrance to one bee width so small hive beetles can't fly in. You also need to help protect the little colony from robbers. 

Add small hive beetle trap filled 1/3 with mineral oil to opposite corners of the hive body, even if in a nuc.

If you don't have traps, cut a Swiffer duster cloth into 3 inch x 3 inch strips, roll and place between hive corners diagonal to each other. A few bees will get caught in the cloth but more small hive beetles will stick there and die.

Inspect Daily

No, it's not over, now you have to diligently inspect daily. Twice a day if you are a worry wart like me. If you see small hive beetle larvae on some frames to start, chances are you have them in all frames, they just haven't hatched yet.

As you find yet more frames with small hive beetle larvae, remove and replace with frames from another one of your colonies. This is why we recommend starting with two hives, if one is struggling then you can borrow from the other. Don't forget to inspect your other colony or colonies, small hive beetles can fly up to 7 miles in one flight.

What To Do With Frozen Frames

Once larvae has been killed through freezing, frames can be reused in most cases. I tend to clean off the frames of the old dark comb but other beekeepers I know use them as is, it's your call and what your bees will use.

Frames of honey infested with small hive beetle larvae have been slimed so if you plan to harvest, wash off first, then let dry to make sure you have removed the slime.

I also wash off any honey frames of slime before giving back to bees. 

Signs of wax moths include white filament channels in wax comb and on frames.

Signs of wax moths include white filament channels in wax comb and on frames.

Small Hive Beetles or Wax Moths

Signs of wax moths are distinctly different than small hive beetles. When inspecting your frames, look for roads of white filament through the comb. That's where the wax moth eggs have been laid and where you will find the larvae.

Find a Local Mentor

Where are you located? There are 38 bee clubs in Missouri, find one close to where you live and hopefully find a mentor to help you.


What Are These Bees Doing??

I found these bees on a log, looks like a tiny after swarm at Bluebird Gardens Bee Garden!

I found these bees on a log, looks like a tiny after swarm at Bluebird Gardens Bee Garden!

What Are These Bees Doing?

"What are these bees doing" represents one of the largest category of questions we get at our local monthly bee club meetings Sometimes the behavior is easy to diagnose; then, especially without a visual or photo, there's no telling so the discussion tends to be a series of ideas shared. New beekeepers get completely confused, more experienced beekeepers get to indulge in flights of fancy. Of fancy bees in flight! 

My Mystery Bees

I was feeding sugar water to my three nucleus boxes one morning. Nucleus boxes have 5 frames, half the size of a regular hive box and are used to get colonies started.

I was encouraging them to draw out wax so they could get a jump start on the season when I found the little group of bees in the picture hanging out on an old limb on the ground. I didn't see a queen but it sure looked like a little "after swarm" so I quickly pulled out another empty nuc and placed it next to the limb.

Within minutes, the bees were marching into the nuc box and settling on the comb-drawn frames.

I never did see a queen so a week or so later, I combined them with another established colony not knowing why they were on the log in the first place. It's one of the delights, and challenges, of beekeeping so keep asking those questions and sharing your answers. It's how we all become better beekeepers!