Seasonal scheming

Synopsis : Midwinter is the time for planning and preparation for the beekeeping season ahead. In addition to thinking about the normal season’s events – swarming, mite control, honey etc. – now is the time to be more expansive. What arrangements need to be made for the longer term sustainability of your apiary and beekeeping? 1


Introduction

Now is the winter of our discontent.

So said the young Richard 2 in a soliloquy celebrating the upturn in his fortunes.

For a beekeeper, this upturn might seem a little premature as it’s only 17 days since the winter solstice and there are currently less than 7 hours daylight.

The drowsy days of summer filled with the gentle buzzing of bees seem a lifetime away …

Snowing in the apiary

No cleansing flights today

… and it’s snowing in the apiary.

However, the days are slowly getting longer.

Actually, until the spring equinox, the daylength gets increasingly longer each day – by about a minute and a half on January 1st, to over 4 minutes a day by the end of the month and finally reaching a heady 4 minutes 48 seconds by the 20th of March 3.

All of which means that, although not quite ‘around the corner’ the beekeeping season will be here pretty soon.

So it’s not so much Now is the winter of our discontent as Now is the winter and the best time to prepare for the season ahead and build frames.

I’ve previously posted about building frames, so this post is about planning, though frames might get a mention in passing.

Planning for the season ahead

I was going to title this post Cunning plans but I think most of the cunning plans that Baldrick dreamt up were pretty catastrophic. It seemed sensible to choose a different title.

I have an entire talk on the topic of planning for the season ahead and am giving this talk a couple of times in the next few weeks. To avoid stealing my own thunder 4 I’m not going to talk in general terms about preparing for the season.

Instead I am going to concentrate on the things I’ll be doing in addition to all of the usual activities like swarm prevention, the honey harvest and mite control.

At this time of the year we have the luxury to stare idly off into the middle distance while simultaneously dreaming about bees and polishing off the remains of the Christmas cake. Once the season starts we’ll either be too busy, or there won’t be enough time to make some of the preparations.

So what will I be doing this year that differs from last year, or the one before that?

Long distance beekeeping

I finally moved from the east coast to the western extremities of Scotland last February after a couple of years of spending increasing amounts of time here. I’ve still got bees on both sides of the country (including colonies for research in Fife) and travel to and fro as needed to manage the colonies.

And, frankly, the novelty is starting to wear off.

It can get a bit wearing spending the day working with the bees and then driving for 4-5 hours to get home 5. Beekeeping can be hard work. There are lots of boxes to lift and it can get hot and tiring doing this for hours on a sweltering day in June.

Fortunately, this is Scotland, so the sweltering day bit doesn’t happen all that frequently 😉

However, the physical hard work does happen. I’ve previously calculated – using mental arithmatic on one of those long car journeys 6 – that my spring honey harvest might involve manhandling well over a ton of boxes over a couple of days. And that’s on top of the hive inspections.

Doing this ‘at a distance’ means everything tends to get squeezed into a 2-3 day trip every couple of weeks, or more frequently if I’m queen rearing as well.

OK, I’m not expecting much sympathy as you’ve probably also worked out by now how much honey all those supers contained 😉

Nevertheless, one priority this year is to reduce my hive count on the east coast, and increase it on the west coast.

Think of it as increasing the beekeeping : driving ratio.

Latitude and longitude

Don’t get me wrong, there are advantages of having apiaries 150 miles apart.

For a start, the timing of the key seasonal events – swarming and the nectar flows – are very different. Although there is only a fraction of a degree difference in latitude (perhaps equivalent to ~30 miles), the climatic differences are striking.

Warm and wet on the west coast, cold and dry on the east.

Or, more accurately as these things are all relative, warmer and wetter on the west coast, colder and drier on the east 😉

This, coupled with the geography, means that my bees in Fife are surrounded by intensively farmed land, whereas those on the west coast are in the howling wilderness.

A sweltering June day (!) in Fife with late-flowering OSR

And intensively farmed means oil seed rape (OSR). I don’t think there’s a single season I’ve been in Fife when OSR wasn’t available nearby. Even when the bees fail to collect a surplus the boost the colonies get from the bonanza of nectar and pollen is huge.

This means that the colonies are much bigger and stronger earlier in the season. They therefore make swarm preparations sooner and I can start queen rearing earlier.

All of which means that the 4-5 hours separation by car – less than 3° of longitude – is manifest as 3-4 weeks of difference in the beekeeping season.

And that means I don’t need the same equipment on both sides of the country at the same time.

Result 🙂

Local beekeeping

I think what these rambling comments really emphasise is the intensely local nature of beekeeping. The climate, geography and forage experienced by, or available to, colonies determines ‘what happens when’.

Specific advice on beekeeping can only meaningfully be applied if these factors are taken into account.

This is inevitably very confusing for beginners.

If a venerable sage pronounces on the discussion forums that ‘now is the right time’ for oxalic acid treatment, then it must be correct.

Yes?

Er, no.

The ‘right time’ reflects the combination of the mode of action of oxalic acid and the state of the colony. Oxalic acid is only effective against phoretic mites, so the colony should ideally be broodless. The timing of broodlessness will depend upon a host of factors, but will likely differ in different locations.

We’ve had a relatively mild winter (so far). My Fife colonies were broodless from late October through until sometime near mid/late November. A few I checked on the 7th of December had brood, and I expect they all did by Christmas (I’ve not checked since).

Cappings and a couple of mites – early December 2021, Fife

Had I not treated until the Christmas – New Year holiday my mite control would have been much less effective. Many mites would have escaped a drenching in oxalic acid as a consequence of being hunkered down in capped cells.

If you didn’t treat at all, or didn’t treat until the Christmas holidays, or didn’t treat when you know that the colony was broodless 7, keep a close eye on the mite levels as the colonies expand this spring. If the winter remains mild the mites will have ample opportunity to reproduce to disturbingly high levels.

I seem to have drifted off topic …

Local bees

My Fife bees were all reared locally and the queens are open mated. They do well in Fife and possibly wouldn’t do quite as well on the west coast. They also have Varroa whereas my west coast apiary is in a Varroa-free region.

I therefore cannot simply reduce my east coast colony numbers by moving them.

Instead I’ll have to use a combination of splitting some to produce nucs for sale and uniting others to make strong colonies for the summer nectar flow. Hopefully this should leave me with a few very strong colonies which will be easier to manage and/or hand on when I finally leave altogether.

Like last year I’ll therefore be doing quite a bit of long distance queen rearing. I’ll raise the cells in Fife and then transfer them, once sealed, to my recently completed portable queen cell incubator.

Have incubator, will travel

This frees up the cell raising colony for a second round of grafted larvae. I’ll then keep the cells with me until the queens emerge, maintaining them with a tiny bit of honey and water every day. On my next visit to Fife I’ll then be able to transfer them to introduction cages and place them in mating nucs.

A trial run doing this worked well last year.

There are several advantages of doing things this way:

  • The cell raising colony can be re-used about a week earlier than if I’d left the queens in it – either to emerge, or until they were ready for introduction as mature queen cells.
  • Any dud cells (i.e. those that don’t emerge) are ditched instead of only being discovered when checking the mating nucs a week or two later 8.
  • I can use the queens to fit in with my own travel timetable – which has other things dictating it like pesky meetings – rather than vice versa.

But, of course, it also involves a bit more work in maintaining and caging the queens. In addition, in my experience virgin queen introduction is slightly more risky than adding mature cells to a queenless colony.

However, in my view, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

Expansion

I’ve successfully reared queens for several years.

I’m certainly not an expert, but I’m experienced 9 enough to expect it to work. I’m disappointed when graft acceptance is below about 75%, or when less than three quarters of my virgin queens fail to mate successfully.

Capped queen cells

Capped queen cells produced using the Ben Harden queenright queen rearing system

Multiplied together (0.752) you get 0.56 … or ~50-60%. I therefore work out how many queens I need and graft twice the number of larvae and it usually works out about right.

So it is very frustrating when it doesn’t.

And it didn’t with my west coast queen rearing last season 🙁

Graft acceptance was low (though not catastrophic), but queen mating was very poor. I think this was due to a number of factors, some self-inflicted and some environmental:

  • Colonies developed much more slowly meaning queen rearing needed to start later in the season.
  • I had too few colonies, and certainly too few drones, to ensure enough ‘Summer lovin’ 🙂
  • The weather. It can be a bit hit and miss getting sufficient ‘dry, calm, settled’ weather for queen mating this far north and west.

July temperatures in Ardnamurchan

To expand my colony numbers on the west coast, and to generate surplus to help meet the demand for Varroa-free colonies in the area, I need to ‘up my game’ significantly.

Improved mating success 10

There’s nothing I can do to change the weather though I have started to take an unhealthy interest in it.

I’ve now got a personal weather station in the apiary which can generate graphs like that shown above (or for wind speed, sunlight, rainfall etc.). By retrospectively determining the local conditions that occurred during successful mating flights 11 I should be able to plan the timing of queen cell production a little better.

For example, if all that is needed is one half-decent day in an otherwise unsettled fortnight, it would make sense to produce a small number of mature cells over a long period. In contrast, if successful mating needs a longer period of settled weather – that might only occur once a season – then it might be better to have lots of queens (and mating nucs) ready for the time most likely to be suitable.

And the same considerations apply to drones.

Ardnamurchan is a very sparsely populated area … whether you’re counting people or bees. I strongly suspect that a major factor contributing to poor mating success was the relative sparsity of drones. To help compensate for this I am going to boost drone production in colonies by adding at least one full frame of drone foundation.

Drone-worker-drone

Drone-worker-drone …

Regular readers will know I use a lot of foundationless frames. The colony preferentially draws these as worker or drone comb to fit their needs at the time. Consequently, many of my colonies often have more drone brood than a hive just filled with frames of purchased worker foundation.

However, this year I’m not even going to give them the option … I’ll drop a frame of drone foundation into the box so they just have to get on with it!

Finally, I can certainly improve my understanding of colony development on the west coast. Do I need to provide a syrup or pollen (pollen sub) boost early in the season to compensate for a local dearth of nectar and pollen? Are there other ways I could manage the colonies to ensure they are strong enough at the right time for cell raising?

So, part of my planning is to improve a number of things that contribute to successful queen rearing. Some of these will inevitably impact honey production, but that’s something I’m happy to sacrifice (in the short term at least).

A new apiary

For the first time I’ve got bees in the garden … or what masquerades as a garden in this part of the world. More accurately it’s just a patch of rough hillside with some mixed woodland and a really boggy bit (and an unhealthy amount of rhododendron).

For convenience I need to find an additional apiary this year. This avoids overloading an area with too many bees, and provides an additional site for queen mating or simply moving colonies temporarily during certain manipulations.

The usual quote is “less than 3 feet or more than 3 miles” when it comes to moving bees.

However, those rules aren’t absolute.

Mountains and expanses of water both significantly reduce the distances bees will fly (they prefer to go round them rather than over them).

And we have lots of both 12.

Aspen over Loch Sunart

I’ve scouted out a couple of locations already and have a couple more to check. My main apiary will remain in the garden but I’ll have an out apiary when needed.

Learn something new

The motto of perl, my favoured (and now very much out of fashion) computer programming language, is there’s more than one way to do it.

And exactly the same motto could be applied to beekeeping.

If you think about swarm control for example, you could use any one of at least a half dozen widely used methods, each of which has pros and cons.

Pagden, Demaree, nucleus, vertical splits, Taranov, etc. 13. Any of them will do the job if properly applied. Some might be better than others, but they all get there in the end.

I’m a firm believer in learning to use one method really well before trying something new.

Learn its foibles, its strengths and weaknesses. Get good at it.

Then, and only then, try a different method. If you’re interested 14.

It’s only by being confident and successful with one technique you’ll be able to judge whether a different one might actually be better.

Last year I used a Morris board for the first time. It’s like a Cloake board, but half the width. It didn’t work as well as the queen rearing method I usually use (a Ben Harden system). I think I know why and will be trying again this season.

I’m also going to try cell punching as an alternative to grafting. Cell punching involves cutting out a cell plug containing a larva of a suitable age and then presenting the entire plug to a queenless cell raiser.

I see this (if you’ll excuse the pun, which will become obvious in a second) as a sort of ‘future-proofing’.

You need good eyesight and a steady hand for grafting. My presbyopia is becoming more marked and I’d like to be able to rear queens reliably when I need glasses so thick they don’t fit under my veil 😉

There are more schemes being schemed (including something about frames), but they’ll have to wait until another time as I’ve already written too much …


Note

Coincidentally, on the day I made some notes for the last paragraph, Jeremy Burbidge at Northern Bee Books sent out a flyer announcing Roger Patterson’s new book Queen Rearing Made Easy: The Punched Cell Method. Roger is a strong advocate of this method and has written about it on Dave Cushman’s website. I’ve not read the book, but I have watched a few YouTube videos … what could possibly go wrong?

Footnotes

  1. Regular readers will realise that this is an addition to a normal post. I wasn’t sure whether to call it a summary, abstract or precis (all of which suggests a little too much detail), so settled on synopsis. It might stay, it might be revised, or it might be quietly forgotten in a month.
  2. In Shakespeare’s Richard III
  3. At which point of course the difference in day length starts to decrease until the summer solstice. All these figures from timeanddate.com
  4. And potentially reducing the audience by 100’s about 7.
  5. I don’t think beefarmers have time to read this site, but any that do are currently thinking “What a wuss” or “Lightweight!”
  6. All the normal warnings therefore apply … there wasn’t even an envelope involved, so you might want to treat this figure with caution.
  7. Tut, tut.
  8. Remember, I’m 150 miles away, I can’t have a quick peek a day or two after introducing the queen cell … at least not without a long car journey.
  9. Or perhaps arrogant?
  10. Fnarr, fnarr as they’d say in Viz
  11. Or at least on the days of successful mating flights
  12. Actually, ours are hills. The cutoff is usually considered to be 2000 feet (610 metres) and there’s no land higher than that within 10 miles or so.
  13. OK, perhaps the latter isn’t ‘widely used’ … and there aren’t even six items in the list, but it’s all I could think of late at night.
  14. You don’t have to.

26 thoughts on “Seasonal scheming

    1. David Post author

      Hi Judith

      The impression I get is that beekeeping aids longevity. The average age of beefarmers is somewhere in the mid-60’s and many associations appear to have a significant proportion of members who are ‘growing old (dis)gracefully’. Of course, losing a decade or so would probably help us all 😉

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  1. Howard

    Will having more drones where you are raising the queens really help? I thought the queens fly further than the drones, to help reduce the chances that she mates with a brother.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Howard

      You’re absolutely correct that drones and queens fly different distances to standard drone congregation areas (DCAs). However, in areas where there is poor weather and/or – it seems regularly – with native/dark bees you also get apiary vicinity mating.

      In addition, and to keep the post shorter than it would otherwise be, I didn’t explain that:

      • Some larvae will be sourced from hives other than my own
      • I know my current queens come from different lineages

      Finally, it’s possible that DCA’s are rather few and far between in the sort of countryside around here. I don’t know this and would be interested in wandering about in likely looking areas waving a virgin Q in a cage at the end of a fishing rod to try and locate some.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  2. Ron Miksha

    I liked this a lot!
    By the way, with respect to queen rearing and “what could go wrong?”
    “Let me count the ways . . .” (Not from Richard III, but Eliz. Browning of course!)

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Ron

      Over here ‘What could possibly go wrong?’ is pretty always used to indicate that the unbridled optimism is misguided and will be followed by a cascade of unexpected and horrible consequences (to paraphrase The Urban Dictionary).

      Or, as you correctly put it “Let me count the ways …”.

      Still, considering the time of year, the lousy weather, the low cloud and intermittent snow there’s nothing wrong with a bit of unbridled enthusiasm.

      I’d meant to comment on your Chilean beekeepers post. I visited Chile a few years ago and talked – in English – to a very patient and polite group of Chilean beekeepers, with each slide being painstakingly translated. It was clear after the first half dozen slides we’d be there all day if I didn’t reduce the amount I said, so we ended up with me summarising every slide (Powerpoint of course, but I’m old enough to sill consider them ‘slides’) in a single sentence.

      It’s a wonderful country and I was amazed at the distances the beekeepers were prepared to travel. One invited me to go and inspect some colonies with him ‘South of Santiago’ … it turned out to be 400 miles south, a distance that would have wrecked my itinerary (I was visiting Marisol Vargas in Concepcion for some research collaborations).

      Here’s a mural from near Mercado Central in Santiago …

      Bee mural, Santiago

      Happy New Year!
      David

      Reply
      1. Ron Miksha

        I found Chilean beekeepers to be an enthusiastic group, too. It’s a beautiful country and I’d love to travel back for another visit. In Chile, distances are measured the same as in other parts of the Americas – here in Canada, my son is 3300 kilometres away at university in Montreal. I’ll drive over and pick him up when classes end in April. It’s not unusual for people to hop in the car and just go for hours.
        I really like the Mercado Central Mural you posted. I didn’t see it when I was last in Santiago. Gotta go back!
        Ron

        Reply
        1. David Post author

          Hi Ron

          Yes, a wonderful country. If you didn’t get there, the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino is well worth a visit.

          The murals in Chillan were also quite dramatic:

          Chillan mural

          Chillan highwayman

          Petrol (‘gas’) prices here are about 50% more than you currently pay – about 2.5 CAD. What’s more the country is a lot smaller. If I drove for 3300 km I’d be in St. John’s, Newfoundland! My son was only about 300 km away and he usually took the train. Maybe I’m just a lousy father?

          Cheers
          David

          Reply
  3. John Macdougall

    David, Thanks for some excellent posts. This one raises a question for me – how can you be sure you don’t carry any varroa from Fife to Ardnamurchan with your queen incubator (or even just in the car)?
    John

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hello John

      Queens stay in the incubator and it’s nowhere near the hives. More generally, I try and practice good apiary hygiene. Different hive tools (in buckets of soda), different equipment – or a soda wash if transferring things – bee suit washed every visit. No bees other than queens are moved, queens are rarely parasitised by mites and I can inspect each queen very carefully if needed.

      My understanding is that Varroa survival outside the hive is limited due to desiccation (though I can’t find the link right now). I rarely transport bees in the car anyway.

      I also regularly monitor ‘no mite drop’ from my Ardnamurchan bees.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  4. Clive Baker

    Thank you for another interesting piece.
    We hear a lot about Apiary Vicinity Mating with A.m.m. bees. and I was wondering if you’ve ever observed this behaviour yourself with your Ardnamurchan bees.
    It would seem the best strategy for ensuring reproductive success under the conditions you describe there.
    Best Wishes

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Clive

      I’ve not observed it, but have talked with Jon Getty (the author of the link I posted earlier) so know what to look for in the future. Interestingly he states it was observed on days with good ‘queen mating’ weather … though this might reflect observer bias as those are the days he was about in the apiary.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
    2. Alan Cooper

      David,
      Northwest Ireland – cloudy, wet, mild winters and iffy summers. Your experience of lowered graft take and Q mating mirrors mine . So glad it may not be down to my poor beeking. And this winter given the lack of a decent cold period, I am unconvinced that there has yet been a brood break to optimise varroa control. So glad I have the silver lining of a hedged landscape. Looking forward to reading more about your management response to beeking at the climatic margins (even though you will not be burdened with varroa control).
      Alan.

      Reply
      1. David Post author

        Hello Alan

        “Cloudy, wet, mild winters and iffy summers”. Surely not? 😉 Graft acceptance wasn’t too shoddy, but queen mating was very poor. Let’s see how things go this season. I’ll work a bit harder at things this time. as they say “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again then purchase a ‘genuine’ native black bee queen from southern Greece”. 😉

        Our winter here has also been mild. A short cold snap at the end of November, but since then barely a frost. However, we’ve definitely had a brood break. I always expect it earlier rather than later. By now I’m concerned if they’re not rearing brood.

        The other thing to keep an eye on are the stores. If they have been rearing brood they will have been using up the stores faster than usual.

        There’s always something, isn’t there?

        Cheers
        David

        Reply
  5. Archie McLellan

    Hi David

    I too was moving sliders and looking up tables on timeandate.com for our New Year BKA newsletter last week and I wrote that by the end of January the day length would have increased from a few seconds a day before Christmas to over THREE minutes by the end of January. For you, it’s over four minutes – a 25% difference between NW and SE. By the summer solstice, your day is more than 75 minutes longer than ours – and with your sea-level horizon, it will probably feel even longer.

    Archie

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Archie

      Midsummer evenings seem to go on forever, it’s wonderful. Although the official daylength is a fraction under 18 hours, the nights are never really dark. In June the horizon usually remains visible all night as the sun isn’t sufficiently far enough below it to give true darkness.

      Of course, no one here ever stays out that late as the midges are brutal 😉

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  6. vince poulin

    Mid-winter scheming here includes some serious mid-winter analysis. Without it future plans may well be just future “dreams”. There is lots of “data” to digest and then ask – what does it all mean? One outcome was anticipated – that mite treatments started late give mixed and risky results. Lesson learned – get treatments underway early – holidays and work schedules be damned. Daily mite counts over-winter show Apivar is not a Holy Grail if started late. 3,472 and 4,681 mites in two hives prove that point. There is a deep resolve to trap mites in 2022 using drone comb and queen exclusion. Another interesting mid-season outcome is learning screened-bottom boards in winter can induce significant mortality. This initiated a quick trial – upper entrances were given to all but one hive. The objective was to get bees off those screens by providing a nice-dry upper entrance. It looks to have worked! Dead bees counts at screen-boards dropped like a rock. Next year all hives will be fitted with upper entrances. Those where mite are not being monitored will be provided solid bottom boards. No rest for the wicked – still a good month or more of winter left. What lies ahead? What will the numbers show? Frames to build? Maybe but maybe not. I hope lots are needed.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Vince

      No rest for the wicked indeed … it’s good to have projects and particularly good to be watching and learning. Too cold here for any flights at the moment and a good two months before there is likely to be much forage available even if they could fly. I’m making use of the peace and quiet by doing all those odd jobs I postponed from the previous season … and scheming schemes for the season ahead 🙂

      I’m aware that there’s more research being done on Apivar resistance and apparent treatment failure so will hopefully have something more to write about on this subject.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
      1. vince poulin

        With respect to Apivar I started the treatments on Sept.2. I was out of town most of August hence the late start. Because of that mites were able to hide away in all the eggs laid during August and seemingly most of those laid in September. I did get some good immediate Apivar drops from phoretic mites – similar to what we see with OA but after those drops remained steady at 8-90 per day for most of September. Clearly mites were emerging with bees in great numbers. A 3-million Nosema count in one hive prompted me to spray the hives with Nozevit/Apifit on Sept 24. This produced an entirely unexpected result. On the 25th I got a huge drop in mites from the spray. Values of 45-90 the previous days went to 255, 411, 266, 220 over the next 4 days and held for another 5-days! These were mites that somehow avoided Apivar or were resistant to it. This happened in a second hive but to a lesser degree. Nozevit is not a miticide. My guess is when sprayed bees cleaned the sugar spray from each other effectively “grooming” mites. Sugar covered mites drop out of the hive. Under the scope many are seen encased in sugar. A second application of Nozevit did not produce such dramatic drops but #s still in the 13-50/day range. When #s like 50-60 showed up again I reached for OA. OA was scheduled for mid-Nov anyway and clearly needed. So much so multiple treatments were required. Between 19-Nov and 14-Dec 423 and 1,153 respectively were killed in the two most heavily infested hives. All these were missed by Apivar for one reason or another. A nice warming trend started today after many holiday weeks of ice cold (down to -9c). The bees like it. Today – hard to imagine but bees are nicely clustered in all hives. They cluster above their upper brood box at the interface of an insulation quilt. Inside temperature I monitor temperature, humidity and can observe cluster size. Today – 18.4c near one cluster and an amazing 29.9c in another – that’s summer time. Other hives also nice and warm at 16.9-22.4c. Outside was 9.5c which accounts for lots of the heat. The coldest I risked taking was 3.6c. Outside temperature was -6.2 but much colder overnight. Be nice if this warm spell holds for another few weeks leaving February the last month to worry about.

        Reply
        1. David Post author

          Hi Vince

          Do you know your Apivar strips were new, within date and had been stored properly? To have such high mite levels after treatment (or towards the end of the treatment window) suggests either resistance or that the Apivar is not fully active for some reason. I’ve exchanged a couple of emails with Frank Rinkevich recently about Apivar resistance which he continues to work on. We’re going to discuss some more things and I’ll post some updates after that.

          You can also ‘reactivate’ Apivar strips mid-treatment by scraping them with a hive tool and repositioning them right next to the brood nest. I try and do this and think it helps. I’ve written about this in Winding down, last September.

          I’m currently hoping for some colder weather. It’s been mild almost all winter. Although it sounds heartless, one of the good things about a really hard winter is that it ‘weeds out’ the weak colonies. In a mild winter they can stagger through and then need lots of care to get them built up in the spring. Although I’d prefer to lose no colonies at all overwinter, I’d rather lose a weak colony than have it hanging on by its fingertips (pretarsi?) in mid-March.

          Roll on spring!

          Cheers
          David

          Reply
          1. vince poulin

            David – did not see your reply – my reason for starting Apivar on Sept 2 (late) was due to a lack of fresh product. I waited and bought new from a fresh package of 50 strips. I was there when the package was opened and checked the date. I did not scrape the strips during mid-season. I inspected frequently and all remained clean so did not think to scrape them. You have to see my spreadsheet. I’ll email it one day – just out of interest and if you had time. All hives are still looking good. Cluster size has dropped slightly but possibly due to bees beginning to move down into their lower brood box. Sugar blocks are going quickly and one day this past week lots of pollen was going in. One more week of colder weather then Feb which is anticipated to be warmer. I’m build new frames in anticipation of needing several new hives. Also taking a page out of your book. Your foundation sheets are pinched between two wood strips at the bottom. My frames are built having single, flat, grooved bottoms. Requires precise foundation sizing to get them nice and flat. Your frame design employing two strips of wood makes getting foundation size correct easy. I cut to width but not to length. After the two bottom strips are nailed excess foundation is easily removed. My frames of course are not sized for Langstroth foundation. This requires cutting it to fit my frames. Thanks for that!!!!!!!! Frames are not fun! It is tedious work when build from scratch. You are due another coffee!!!!!!!

          2. David Post author

            Hi Vince

            Apivar strips carry a warning about storage etc. I’ve usually just used fresh complete packets, but had cause to look up Apivar stability recently. It’s poor, so it makes sense to share a packet between friends, rather than store it under non-ideal conditions and hope it is still active.

            Yes, those separate bottom bars make fixing foundation a trivial task. You can get at least three different types of bottom bars here – let’s call them separate thin or thick, or single piece. I’ve just bought some of the latter for an experiment so might write about these later in the year.

            Hmmm … a post about frame bottom bars. Just how niche is that? 😉

            Cheers
            David

  7. Helen Howarth

    something that I have never thought about before, …. but do varroa mites ever enter the queen cells and lay their offspring in there? it seems a poor choice in view of the logic for choosing drone cells over worker cells,

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Helen

      I think this only happens at very high infestation levels. I’ve never seen a parasitised queen pupa but I think I’ve seen photos of an adult queen with a mite attached. You’re right that, from an evolutionary standpoint, it would make little sense to enter a soon-to-be-capped queen cell. Based upon the timing of the first egg (the male) and the development time of the second egg (the first female mite) it’s unlikely the cell would produce any additional mated female mites. The foundress mite could be released to initiate a new cycle. However, if infestation levels are very high I presume there may be competition for cells by mites (potentially counterbalanced by some selection for ‘unrelated’ mites to enter the same cell to potentially generate some genetic diversity in the population).

      All of which suggests there are some pretty large gaps in my knowledge of Varroa development 🙁

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
      1. Helen Howarth

        My knowledge is also rather lacking! (Sooo glad not to have to deal with it …) so I googled some numbers and came up with ….
        Varroa mite Days to mature :-
        3 days before eggs are laid
        1= male +6 days to mature = 9 days
        every 30 hours thereafter next eggs laid = Female
        Therefore 10 days from cell being sealed for 1st mature Female

        Queen cells :- 7 days sealed 8th emerges unlikely that mature varroa mites at point of emergence…. so long as the workers do not keep new queen sealed up for some reason!
        hope my google page was up to date!
        regards

        Reply
        1. David Post author

          Hi Helen

          Numbers I’ve previously used are ~70 hours from capping for the unfertilised egg, then every ~30 hours (so agreement with your numbers). Average yield of mites from worker brood is ~1.5 plus the foundress mite. The shorter development time of the queen should therefore preclude producing viable progeny mites.

          Drone brood is significantly favoured over worker and detected chemically. I wonder if queen cells are actively avoided, or simply rarely parasitised because of the thousands of ‘competing’ worker/drone cells available? I expect someone will know 🙂

          Cheers
          David

          Reply

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