Friday, January 21, 2005

Natural Beekeeping

How I Started

I'll try to recreate the events since Aug. 2000 - The last time I've used a pesticide (Apistan) in my hives.

I went to the Virginia State Beekeepers 2001 Summer Meeting in Sandston where the speaker (A Master Beekeeper) was talking on how to do the 2 queen hive and I got my ideas from him.

I pulled honey in June of 2001 and then started the program.

For Varroa Mite control - mineral oil. Use a Honey Bear style bottle with a squeeze type spout. Put down a small bead of oil on each frame of the top super only after smoking the bees down. Do not use the mineral oil on Nucs or newly installed packages. Do this not more than 1 time a week. I put the mineral oil on no more than 2 times a month. The rule was to do this after the honey flow was over and the honey was pulled. Continue until cold weather. I stopped the first part of Oct 2001.

For Trachea Mite Control - Essential Oil of Wintergreen. He recommended putting it in a grease patty. I use Pure, Natural Wintergreen Oil purchased from the Heritage Store in Virginia Beach, VA. I use it in sugar syrup only.
The formula is:
1 gal glass jug - 5 lb of sugar - 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt - 1/2 teaspoon of garlic syrup - 3 drops of Oil of Wintergreen -

Garlic Syrup - 2 heads of garlic - cloves pealed and chopped finely - in a glass container add the chopped garlic - cover the chopped garlic with either sugar syrup or Vegetable glycerin. (1 inch above the garlic) Wait 6 weeks and pour off your garlic syrup. I used Vegetable glycerin for my syrup. I find the candied garlic tastes OK - to each his own.

I put the 5 lb of sugar in the gal jug - add the sea salt, garlic syrup and 3 drops of Oil of Wintergreen on the dry sugar. I add 12 cups of hot water from a coffee maker and seal the jug and shake like you were making a mixed drink. When it looks like the sugar has been dissolved - I fill the jug to the gallon mark with more hot water to make a gal of syrup. Let it set until room temperature and it is ready to use.

I put the sugar syrup on the bees in June. I gave 1 quart per hive using a Boardman feeder. I do this again in August and Sept. For Winter feeding I modified my entrance reducers by adding 3 holes so it would hold a Boardman feeder and this gives an entrance for the bees to get to the syrup and it stops robbing. This way I do not have to open the hive to feed the bees. I checked the weight of the hives and if a hive feels light I feed the sugar syrup. About Jan 10, 2002 I started giving all the hives the sugar syrup to get the bees ready for the Maple honey flow. When the Maples start - I will stop giving them the syrup and unless a hive feels light or looks to be in trouble I won't start again until after June when I pull honey.

I have different mints growing and use them in the hive also. I have a mint called Mountain mint that is very strong. I would gather 6 to 8 - four to six inch sprigs of mint. (Mountain Mint, Spearmint, Chocolate Mint and Candy Mint) I would add an even mix of the different mints to the hive above the brood super by laying them on the Brood frames only. I would do this June, July, Aug and Sept. The bees would remove the leaves and propolis the remaining stems to the brood frames if they were to big to remove from the hive. I would remove the propolis stems and add fresh at the next treatment. It took the bees about 2 weeks to propolis the stems.

Pollen Substitute:
Soybean Flour, Brewers Yeast, Powered Milk, Sugar Syrup (2 parts Sugar to 1 part water) and Bee Pollen (if available). Use 1 part each of the dry ingredients and add enough Sugar Syrup to make a cake. Put the cake on the wax paper and roll flat - Put the patty with the top half of the patty free of the wax paper and all of the bottom of the patty on the wax paper on top of the brood super frames. I have also put the pollen substitute in a plastic jar top and place the top on the bottom board (weather can be a problem with the jar top) and the bees gather it as they forage from the bottom board.

The Hive & the Honey Bee Formula:
2 ounces Pollen, 6 ounces Soybean Flour, 5.5 ounces water and 10.5 ounces sugar.
This is a work in progress and different areas and beekeepers will have their own needs and methods to deal with them. In Virginia our first snow is usually in Jan. and maple trees bloom the end of Feb or the first of March. If you live in Vermont I'm sure your first snow may be in Oct. You will have to decide what is the best way to care for your bees. I would suggest starting the natural treatment with one or two hives and see if you like the results. I found my bees looked and acted as if they had more
Vitality with the natural methods.
About Me
I have been keeping Honey Bees since 1992 and find it enjoyable work. My wife and I have a website at where we sell Handrolled Beeswax Candles, Honey, Orginal Art (My Wife's Orginals), Greeting Cards and Candle Sticks. The idea behind the bees and the website was for an income after I retired from Bell Atlantic after 30 years. I retired in 1999 and am finding life can be a never ending adventure.
I hope this site helps anyone interested in trying Natural Beekeeping.
As of Oct 2004 we do not have the small hive beatle in our area yet. I suspect this to be the next challenge.
Jan 2005 - March 2005
We had snow and rain. I ended the fall 2004 season with 1 nuc and 2 hives. One hive was a swarm from the spring, One hive was started from a nuc with an Italian Queen and the nuc I started with 2 frames of brood from the Italian hive and added the Russian Queen. The swarm died out - they froze. The Italian Hive started the winter with 2 supers of honey and the nuc with the Russian queen was transferred into a brood super and had little in the way of stores. I fed the nuc Oct 2004 - present.
On March 22, 2005 I went into the Russian hive and put in the Queen excluder to keep her in the brood super and added my honey supers. I found the Russian Hive has a good hive population and drones. The Maples are at full bloom and providing pollen and nectar. I'm feeding the hive only on rainy days to help keep the hive's honey reserves up. I will check in 7 days (depending on weather and temperature) to make sure the queen is in the brood super and not up in the honey supers. So far I'm finding the Russian queen's hive to be the better hive of any I have tried.
On March 22, 2005 I went into the Italian hive and put in the Queen excluder to keep her in the brood super and added my honey supers. I found a low hive population and 2 frames of sealed brood and a super and a half of honey. I suspect with the warmer weather the hive population will increase - The bees look good. The Maples are at full bloom and providing pollen and nectar. I'm feeding the hive only on rainy days to help keep the hive's honey reserves up and to stimulate the queen to lay eggs. I do not need to check to make sure the queen is in the brood super - just to see if hive population is increasing.
I'm trying to decide if I want to start a nuc from the Russian hive. If so I'll tell the story. I plan on letting the bees grow their own queen. When I have done this in the past - I got a much better hive and it only takes 2 frames of brood to do it. Time Frame end of April to the first week of May.
March 2005 - June 13,2005
The Bees received no sugar syrup or mineral oil - A honey flow was on. I checked the bees to make sure the queen was below the queen excluder March 15,2005. On May 15 I checked the hives to see how the honey flow was progressing and found 2 queen cells on the queen excluder facing the brood super. I removed the Queen excluder and 2 frames of sealed brood and put them in their own brood super. On June10 I checked the new hive and found the queen had taken and I had newly hatched larva. I have been giving this new hive sugar syrup to help it build up hive population.
June 10, 2005
I went into the hives I was going to pull honey from and cleaned up the burr comb and turned the frames as needed. When I pull honey this will help keep down the mess. The bees will clean up any damage and put the honey back into the frames. I use Bee Escapes because it does not leave the smell of Bee Go and I have a product that smells better.
June 11, 2005
I put on the Bee Escapes and will leave them on until June 13 when I pull the honey. The Bee Escapes allowed me to start pulling honey at 07:30 AM June 13. If I had used Bee Go I would have had to wait until about 10 or 11 AM for the sun to heat the fume board to drive the bees down out of the super.
June 13, 2005
We had pulled the honey and had spun it out by 11:00 AM and put the wet supers back on the hives for the bees to clean up. We had 6 supers of honey to do. We use a uncapping Plane instead of an Electric knife. We find it stays hot longer in use and is easier to use. We do not heat our honey to make it flow better and store it in the dark. Again this makes a better product and does not harm the honey. I left the queen excluders in place and will take them out in the middle of Sept. Any honey the bees collect now will be their winter supply. Next week I will start the Sugar Syrup, Mint and Mineral Oil treatment for the mites, about once a month until Oct when I will stop.
Next time - getting the hives ready for winter. This started after pulling the honey
June 13, 2005- Jan 30, 2006.
I put sugar syrup on all hives and the nuc. I forgot that Italian bees are noted for robbing weaker hives. I had set the hive made from the nuc next to the Italian hive and the Italians Robbed it out. All that was left was 1/2 lb of bees, some brood and no reserves. I could not find the queen. I felt sure she was there. Every time I tried to feed the robbed hive the Italians robbed it. To solve this problem. I used a technic for a 2 queen hive. I put the robbed hive(1 brood super) over a queen excluder over the Russian hive with a back entrance facing opposite the bottom entrance of the orginal Russian hive. This allowed the robbed out nuc to use the reserves of the strong hive to build up its population and have the strong hive protect against robbing by the Italian hive. In one month the robbed hive had recovered and I was able to seperate the Robbed hive and give it a honey super to store it's winter reserves in.
July-Sept 2005
About the First of the month I did the sugar syrup, mineral oil and fresh mint leaf treatment on all hives except the robbed hive.
Sept 20, 2005
I removed the Queen excluders, put in the entrance reducers and cleaned the bottom boards.
Dec 20,2005
The Italian Hive has left with 2 supers of honey on it. The only thing I can figure is there was a dead deer about 15 yards from it and the smell made them to decide to leave.
Jan 30, 2006
It is now Jan 30, 2006 and the maples are getting ready to bloom and all hives look good. I will start giving Sugar syrup in a couple of weeks. I plan to add the Queen Excluders around March 20, 2006.
2006 - 2007
I repeated the 2005 treatments for 2006. I started the winter with 2 hives that had ample reserves.
Jan - Feb
I noticed the Robbed hive from 2006 was not flying on warm days. I checked in the hive and they had starved with a super of honey on them. They had brood they were keeping warm and would not leave to get the honey about 2 inches above them. I took the honey supers & put them on the remaining hive.
March 1, 2007
The remaining hive was not increasing in hive population with a laying queen and the population was getting smaller.
May 18, 2007
The bees have disappeared and left 2 supers of honey.
May 20, 2007
I purchased a nuc with an Italian queen and started again with the surplus honey placed above the queen excluder. I gave 1 quart of sugared syrup and the bees looked good. I noticed they did not draw out the new foundation as quickly as they should have.
June 1, 2007
I took 2 frames of brood & started a nuc with the bees growing their own queen. I noticed the nuc stopped flying after the queen had mated & started laying eggs. Around the July 6, 2007. I saw Japanese Hornets flying arount the nuc.
June 15, 2007
I pulled honey.
July 6,2007
The new nuc did not take the sugar syrup and was not flying with a queen. I noticed Japanese Hornets still flying around the hive and the bees had created block at the entrance with a wall of live honey bees.
July 26, 2007
I stopped giving the nuc sugar syrup & put the pollen subsitute on the top bars of the frames. About 2 weeks later the bees starting flying and bringing in pollen. I checked the frames and the queen had started laying eggs and there were about 1/4 frame of sealed brood. The Japanese Hornets were not there.
Aug 20, 2007
I put sugar syrup back on the nuc and the Japanese Hornets showed back up and the bees stopped flying. The bees took about 1/2 quart of the syrup and would not take any more. I stopped giving sugar syrup. Put more pollen subsitute on the top bars and by Sept 1, 2007 the bees starting flying and bringing in pollen. I put on my bee suit and stood in front of the nuc and as the Japanese Hornets landed on the bottom board I killed them.( about 8 total - one got away)
Aug 20, 2007
I added to my sugar syrup. I put a fresh leaf of goldenseal, ginseng and 4 sprigs of fresh mint in a coffee mug - poured boiling water over it let it brew until it reached room temperature and added it to my usual sugar syrup mix.(See above for sugar syrup) I gave this to the nuc and the purchased nuc/hive. The nuc/hive started flying with new vigor and the started nuc reacted very favorablely until the Japanese Hornets came back.
Sept 2. 2007
I was looking into the entrance and saw a face looking back at me. I took a twig and draged a dead Japanese Hornet out of the entrance. The bees had killed it. This is the first time I had seen Japanese Hornets affect any of my hives in a negative way or be killed by honey bees. Usually they just run them off.
Sept 15,2007
I took a Brood super and cut it in half. I then made 2 each 5 frame nucs from the one brood super. I had to create the rest of the nuc (bottom board, inner cover, outer cover) based on the finished measurements of the 5 frame brood nuc. Paint it and it will be ready to go.
Sept 16,2007
The Japanese Hornets are still a problem for the nuc. When the newly made nucs are finished I will transfer the bees to it and see if there is a differance. On Sept 10, 2007 I received my Russan Queen and took 2 frames of sealed brood from the main hive and put it with the queen in a brood super. Every thing went fine - the bees released the queen, the queen is laying eggs, the bees are flying and taking sugar syrup. I will continue to feed the Russan nuc. So far they seam to be able to drive off the Japanese Hornets .
Observation - The Italian hive and the new Russian bees are both more aggressive than normal. The Italian hive came from gentle stock and the Russian bees are usually very gentle. Both hives now follow you for a much longer distance and attack more than normal.
Sept 25, 2007
I moved the old nuc to the newly made half brood box nucs on Sept 20, 2007. When I moved them there were 2 Japanese Hornets dead on the bottom board inside of the hive. The bees have an even smaller entrance to guard and they now seem to be acting more like a hive. Time will tell. The new Russian Queen's hive has been going great guns - no problems.
Oct. 2007
I am still feeding Sugar Syrup to the old nuc and the Russian hive.
Nov. 2007
After the first cold spell the nuc froze and was robbed out. The Russian hive is doing fine. I am still feeding Sugar Syrup to the Russian hive and a quart a month to the Itialian hive as a safety measure.
Dec. 2007 - Mar. 2008
The winter has been mild here. (no snow - some freezing weather) The new Russian hive with only one brood super is showing signs of starting to get crowed. I have not gone in to the hive to check (2008) - The last time I checked the Russian hive was in Dec. (on a very warm day - 70 +) and they had 4 frames of drawn out comb with sealed brood and honey stores. I have kept sugar syrup on them all winter and on the warm days they took it into the hive. The Maples started blooming about Feb 20, 2008 and are just about in full bloom on Mar. 4 2008. The Italian hive looks fine. About Mar. 20, 2008 I plan to put the Queen Excluders on and put the queens in the bottom brood super of each hive.
Observation - The Italian hive and the new Russian bees were both more aggressive than normal in Sept. 2007. The Italian hive came from gentle stock and the Russian bees are usually very gentle. Both hives would follow you for a much longer distance and attacked more than normal. In Feb and Mar they (so far) have not been as aggressive as in Sept 2007. When I go into the hives about Mar 20 - I will find out if they have return to gentle behavior.
Mar.14, 2008
It was a warm day and I put the queen excluders on both hives, cleaned the bottom boards, removed the entrance reducers and all was well. The Italian hive had a brood super of sealed brood, a super of sealed honey and sealed drone cells. I did not see any drone bees. The Russian Queen I introduced with 2 frames of brood had survived the winter and had expanded by 1/2 frame of honey on each side of the orginal 2 frames both of which had sealed brood. I added a honey super with drawn comb on top of the queen excluder - so the bees could store any surplus without having to draw out extra comb in the brood super. The 2 hives seem to have return to their normal gentle behavior and do not show the aggression they had in sept. 2007.
Mar. 26, 2008
The maple trees have almost finished blooming and as have the crocus and daffodils. The Redbud and Dogwood are about to start blooming. Dandelion is blooming in greater volumn.

Apr 30, 2008
.I checked the hives and found the Italian hive now had 2 and 1/2 supers of honey and the Russian hive had 3/4 super of honey. I added an Illinois honey super with new foundation to each hive just above the queen excluder.
.The Russian Queen I introduced with 2 frames of brood that had survived the winter and had expanded by 1/2 frame of honey on each side of the original 2 frames both of which had sealed brood had expanded to 8 frames of sealed brood. The 2 frames on the end, that were still foundation I moved to different location so the bees would draw out the foundation a little quicker. I plan to raise a queen from this hive when all the frames are drawn out.
The Tulip Popular is blooming and the Holly is starting. We are in the middle of a honey flow.
May 16, 2008
The first 2 weeks of May have had cool temperatures and more than the normal amount of rain. The problem this creates is the nectar and pollen get washed out of the blossoms when it rains and can cause a shortage protein for the bee larvae. I am waiting for the temperature to stay above 55 degrees at night before I start the nuc from the Russian Hive.
May 27,2008
On May 21,2008 - I removed 3 frames of brood and newly hatched eggs from the Russian hive and installed them in my half brood super nuc. I had queen cells on my queen excluder in the Russian hive, I put them back in case the hive had swarmed and there was no queen(I did not see the queen). Three days later I checked the nuc and saw no queen cells being created. On May 26, 2008 I checked and saw no queen cells - I did see a bee that may have been a queen or a laying worker. There were hatched eggs in the worker cells not drone cells as of yet. I could have transferred the original queen when I started the nuc. I will check again in about 10 days to see if the cells develop into drone or worker cells. The Drone bees that were transferred on the original 3 frames were being removed from the hive by the worker bees.
June 15, 2008
I took the second 5 frame nuc and put the 3 frames of bees with sealed brood from the eariler nuc with the Russian queen into it. I left the orginal nuc with 1 frame of sealed brood and 1 frame of newly hatched eggs for it to grow another queen. The nuc with the Russian queen was moved to a new location to finish drawing out the 3 frames of new foundation.
June 18, 2008
The nuc with 1 frame of sealed brood and 1 frame of newly hatched eggs was checked and found to have 2 queen cells. I will not check again until around July 20 to see if I have a laying queen. This nuc was left in the oirginal location - That means the field bees will remain with it and continue to bring in nector and pollen.
July 5, 2008
On June 23, 2008 I put the triangular bee escapes on the Italian and Russian hives. I had 3 Medimum supers of honey from the Italian hive and 1.5 supers of honey on the Russian hive. On June 25 at 05:30 AM I pulled 4 supers of honey - 3 from the Italian hive and 1 from the Russian hive. By 11:00 AM the honey was extracted and the honey supers put back on the hives they came off of.
Honey Pulling has 4 parts.
Part 1 is the prep-work. This includes cleaning the 10 frame extractor, putting down a 10'x20' tarp on the floor where the work will take place to catch the mess and keep it off the floor, clean the double screen strainer and 2 catch buckets, clean the cappings plane, capping tank, the jars that we will use as storage containers and getting the extra deep supers, outer covers that will be needed at extraction and the triangular bee escapes together.
Part 2
Putting on the triangular bee escapes after turning the frames in the honey supers as needed so the bees can clean up any broken combs and liquid honey that resulted. This is usually done in the afternoon when the hive will have the least amount of bees in the hive.
Part 3
The morning of the second day (Usually right at dawn) - I pull the honey supers and my wife and I transfer the supers 1 frame at a time from the outside of the house to the basement making sure we leave as many bees as possible outside. This year only 3 bees made it in. Once the frames are in the basement - my wife removes the cappings with the cappings plane and hands the frame to me and I put it into the extractor where the honey is spun out by hand. The honey from the extractor is allowed to flow into the double screen and catch buckets. When a catch bucket fills the contents is poured into the storage containers (glass jars). The honey needs to sit for 3-5 days to allow the air bubbles introduced in the extracting process to rise to the surface of the honey where it can be removed. When all the frames have been extracted and put back in the various honey supers - the supers are put back on the hive they came from.
Part 4
We wait 1 day for the honey in the extractor and cappings tank to drain out. Now everything that was used in the extracting process gets cleaned and put back in its proper storage space. The wax cappings are put in a solar wax melter, melted into a block to be used for candles or sent to Brushy Mountain Bee Farm, Inc where it is worked into new foundation.
Aug 30, 2008
July 1, Aug 1 and Aug 25, 2008 I did the wintergreen sugar syrup - mineral oil treatments. On Aug 25, 2008 I removed the queen excluders from the Russian and Italian hives. I started a brood super hive with one nuc and doubled supered my remaining nuc with the now empty nuc. This is an experiment to see if I can over winter a nuc. This will give the remaining nuc 10 frames (5 over 5). Last year the Russian hive over wintered in a brood super with 4 frames of drawn out foundation and it did fine this spring. The fall honey flow has not started yet.
July 19, 2009
I came through the winter with all the hives I started with. I fed the bees 140 pounds of sugar to help them through the winter. We did not have a very good fall honey flow in 2008 and all hives had almost no reserves. I have pulled honey and the spring honey flow was very good. I left 4 full frames of honey on each hive to see if it helps with having winter reserves this year. The Russian queens are doing great. I am still continuing the treatments of mineral oil, Wintergreen and mint once a month (I started in June after pulling the honey)

Aug. 2009 - June, 2010
I followed the usual practices for treating & feeding the bees. The bees started the winter with a super of honey on each hive. We had more snow than usual the winter of 2009 - 2010 and in March I was down to 2 hives. The Italians and the Russians. The Italians re-queened at the end of March and will not have enough bees to make a honey crop. I put 4 honey supers on the Russian hive and on Apr 20 I checked and had 4 full honey supers. I added a fifth super. We pulled honey the second week in June and got 7.5 gal of honey off the one hive. I will now start the treatments for mites. I have also started 4 more hives from the Russian hive and so far all is well.
March 17, 2011
All five hives made it through our 2010-2011 winter. I gave the wintergreen sugar syrup - mineral oil treatments on all hives. Two of the hives had small hive beetle populations and I put mineral oil on 4 of the top 10 frames. I saw no Drone bees or Drone brood cells which was expected. This will be my last wintergreen sugar syrup - mineral oil treatment until after I pull honey in June.

Sept 25, 2012
The hives made it through the winter of 2011-2012 with no problems. I lost one hive in Oct. 2011. The hive was located in the woods & did not get much sun. 
On March of 2012 a friend had 4 queens & I started 2 nucs for him. Both queens died out.  (nucs were in the woods - Shaded areas) I put frames with eggs & brood in them and new queens were created. The leaves came out and the shade was deeper. Over a 6 week period Small hive beetles killed both nucs. The main hives were in the sun and were OK.
June 2012 honey was pulled and was better than expected. All three hives has surplus about 10 gallons in total. 
I continued with the  wintergreen sugar syrup - mineral oil treatments on all hives and they have made it through the summer with no losses. I have started putting salt around the hives as small hive beetle larva preventive for when the larva leave the hive. I also put pans under the entrance to catch anything the bees kick out of the hive.(They need to be emptied after rain to keep healthy bees that fall into them from drowning. I raised the hives to about 10 inches above the ground.
I did not start any more nucs. I want to see if the hives will make it through the winter. I need to determine if what I am doing will keep the small hive beetle problem at bay. So far - so good.
 The hives are starting the 2012 - 2013 winter season with about 3/4 super of honey on each. I have put in the entrance reduces in (Sept 10, 2012). One change I made was to put mineral oil on the edges of all supers as I put the hive back together as well as the frames only in the top super. 
July 08, 2013
The hives made it through the winter of 2012-2013 with no problems.I had a few Small Hive Beatles in one hive.

July 8 2013 honey was pulled from 2 of the three hives. All three hives had surplus of about14 gallons.  I pulled 7 gallons.
I will continue with the  wintergreen sugar syrup - mineral oil treatments on all hives. I have started putting salt around the hives as small hive beetle larva preventive for when the larva leave the hive. I also put pans under the entrance to catch anything the bees kick out of the hive. They need to be emptied after rain to keep healthy bees that fall into them from drowning. I raised the hives to about 10 inches above the ground. This works better than expected. The hives get about 4 - 6 hours of direct sunlight morning to early afternoon.
I tried to start 2 nucs. The wet spring has made this non-productive. I need to determine if what I am doing will keep the small hive beetle problem at bay. So far - so good.

Now I have to wait & see what happens again.
Mar 12 2015
The rest of the Year 2013 was uneventful. We lost 2 hives in the Jan - Feb 2014 time frame and grew 2 different queens to replace the earlier losses. The 2014 honey harvest was light.

Mar 12 2015

Winter seems to have had its last hurrah. The Red maples usually bloom the last 2 weeks in Feb - as of this date they have not yet started. I will wait until March 24 +or- a day or 2 depending on the temperature and check to see what hives made it through the winter. I suspect I will have 2 hives (certain) and 2 hives are possibles. I will continue with the  wintergreen sugar syrup - mineral oil treatments on all hives.
I started in 2013 putting a plastic flower box type containers (3 ft long x 1/2 ft tall 1/2 ft deep) under the entrance of the hive (bottom board). I still use solid bottom boards. When the Small hive larva crawl out to fall on the ground to pupate they land in the box, dry up and die. The Small hive beetle cycle is broken and no pesticides are used. This seems to work as long as the hives stay healthy and you keep the pots empty of water.
More to come