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About feeding new colonies

New Wax

[vc_row][vc_column width="1/2"][vc_column_text]One of the questions we are asked most frequently by new beekeepers is, “How long do I need to feed my colony for?”

To understand how we developed our feeding program, let’s start with our goal for the first year and work back from there. Our goal as first-year beekeepers is to get our colony built up enough and to keep them healthy enough to survive their first winter. Before your colony’s first winter, they must store enough honey to survive. In our experience, in the Denver Metro area, that takes 50-75 pounds of stored food. This food can either be honey, which is collected and made by the bees, or sugar syrup. If it’s syrup, the bees process it in a fashion similar to nectar, removing the excess moisture so that it doesn’t ferment or spoil.

The bees must have a place to store this honey. They must have drawn comb. Each deep frame holds about six pounds of honey, and each medium holds approximately 4. If you are running Langstroth equipment, one deep box full of capped winter stores is typically sufficient to get through the winter. These winter requirements are the reason most Colorado beekeepers winter in 2 deep boxes; one box holds the food and the bees cluster below the honey.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width="1/2"][vc_single_image image="4605" img_size="large" alignment="right"][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Making new comb is resource intensive. We commonly hear that it takes eight pounds of honey to make one pound of wax. We don’t know if this is true or not, but we have heard it cited that it takes about 35-50 pounds of sugar to draw comb in two deep boxes. That’s seven to ten gallons of 1:1 syrup, or even more of nectar, the sugar content of which varies considerably.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width="1/2"][vc_single_image image="4611" img_size="large"][/vc_column][vc_column width="1/2"][vc_column_text]Bees draw comb best in the Spring and early Summer. New colonies on foundation with a strong nectar flow or regular feeding draw combs like nobody’s business. The same is not true later in the year. It can be difficult to impossible to get bees to draw comb in the late summer and fall. As the brood nest reduces its size before the winter, the bees can start to fill the empty cells once occupied by brood. When that happens they don’t need to draw new comb to store food; they can use the old comb. Additionally, there are fewer bees at the right age (about 14 days after emerging) to draw wax.

By providing liquid feed, we help ensure our new colonies survival. Having those resources on hand can reduce the amount of labor needed to make comb. In the Spring when our weather is erratic, and the bees cannot always fly, having a feeder full of syrup that the bees can utilize help advance comb-building as well. You can always stop feeding once the colony reaches the point that you desire, but trying to play catch-up at the end of the year is difficult, if not impossible.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]In summary, we feed new colonies for at least the entire time that they are making new comb, and maybe even longer.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Oxalic Acid Dribble

Oxalic Acid Dribble Method


Using the oxalic acid dribble method for varroa mite control.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width="1/3"][vc_column_text]Oxalic acid is an exciting new tool in varroa mite management. The two most common application methods of oxalic acid are sublimation (vaporization), and the dribble method. Of the two of these, we prefer the oxalic acid dribble method in many situations.

Many people are rushing to buy oxalic acid sublimation tools (vaporizers) to take advantage of the ease of use and the minimal intrusion. These tools are great for times when the temperatures are cold, and opening the hive can be detrimental to colony health.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width="2/3"][vc_video link="https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLzEyk_vwcWWXPnwPKj5V2dDusBpBFPFcx" css_animation="fadeIn"][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]There exists, however, a much quicker and less expensive method of application. We believe the intimidation factor is one of the main things preventing widespread adoption of the dribble method. We hope that the three videos in the playlist above show how easy this method of mite control truly is.

Please keep in mind that no matter which method you choose oxalic acid has some limitations. First, oxalic acid does not kill mites that are reproducing in capped brood. This means that it is most effective when there is no capped brood in the colony. Second, oxalic acid in not approved for use with honey supers on.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

March Beekeeping

March Beekeeping on the Front Range

While the weather is warming up, March is also the snowiest month of the year in this area, making March beekeeping challenging. This time of year always reminds me of the signs on the way down from I-70. “Truckers you are not down yet. Another 1 1/2 miles of steep grades and sharp curves to go.” (more…)

New Varroa Mite Management Recommendations

We’ve got some changes to our recommended varroa mite management strategy. Both of these changes have to do with more recent evidence of mite migration from collapsing or infested colonies.

We have previously recommended that August be our final mite check for the year and that once you had the supers off, mites knocked down and hives full of honey, you were done.

We now recommend monthly monitoring until the weather is too cold to disrupt the hive. Into September at least. This is because we’ve heard of the following happening. A mite count was performed in August with the treatment threshold being reached, (7 mites in 300 bees) and the hive was treated with Apiguard. Two weeks post-treatment, another mite count was performed with there only being one mite in the sample. Success right? One month later, in mid-October, another count was done with the results being somewhere in the 40s.

The mites came from other collapsing or heavily infested colonies nearby.

Second, we have told people only to treat colonies where the threshold is exceeded. Again, because of mite migration, we are now recommending that if any one of the colonies in an apiary exceeds the treatment threshold, that all colonies be treated.

Also please remember that good Integrated Pest Management practices call for other means of control before chemical control. The most successful of these being drone brood trapping/sacrifice.

August Beekeeping

August is a month where a lot is happening for beekeepers in this area. Often times, during the summer months things are on coast.  Checking to see if additional supers are needed and monitoring mite levels and general hive inspections become a comfortable routine. This changes in August.

Hot and dry weather causes flowers to stop producing nectar. A lot of the nectar abundant spring and early summer flowers such as sweet yellow clover are done blooming, or will be shortly. This period of minimal nectar flow is also known to beekeepers as a dearth. Some people who have stopped feeding first year colonies may need to start feeding again to get comb drawn. There’s still plenty of time to get stores, naturally through nectar collection or artificially through feeding, into comb, but getting comb drawn becomes tougher and tougher as the summer progresses. We recommend feeding first year colonies at least until all the comb is drawn in the brood chamber and overwintering area. Traditionally, in this area, this means two deep boxes of comb.

The dearth can cause also hives to become more defensive. New beekeepers who have been dealing with calm, gentle bees are often taken by surprise the first time their bees seem a little more grumpy. Additionally, colony numbers are up so, there are more guard bees increasing the likeliness of stings. We recommend always having your smoker lit, even if you don’t plan on using it.  It’s a lot easier to put it out with extra fuel still in it, than to light it with a defensive colony open and needing smoke. Additionally, we recommend always wearing at least a veil.  Getting stung in the face isn’t very fun.

This is also the critical time period to make sure that your varroa mite levels are under control. As the brood area has expanded through the year, so have the number of places for varroa to breed. As the brood area contracts in the fall, the mites become concentrated in fewer and fewer brood cells quickly overrunning a colony with viruses.  Also because you want the bees that raise your winter bees to be healthy, now is the time to do final mite counts and treatments. The CSU extension office says in it’s IHM (integrated hive management) publication that “Harvest time is a critical time to check and treat for Varroa mites. (It is critical to monitor and treat, if necessary, before the end of August in Colorado. The most damage from Varroa usually occurs in late summer and is the primary reason colonies don’t overwinter successfully).”

Mite treatment often means supers need to be harvested. Many of the varroa treatments are not approved for use when honey is being collected for human consumption. With the dearth upon us, or quickly approaching, the benefits of leaving honey supers on versus removing them in a timely enough fashion to treat for varroa mites are easily weighed for most of us. Additionally, leaving what fall flow there may be for the bees is probably a more healthy choice for the bees as nectar is nutritionally diverse in a way that sugar syrup is not.

Now is also the time to make sure that you are happy with the queens that you have going into winter.  Queen availability is coming to an end. Decisions should be made soon about combing or requeening colonies.

Good off season preparation starts this month with harvesting, mite treatments, and checking stores.

Winter is coming

Medication and Treatments – Nosema

It’s almost that time of year again.  With the warmer weather comes cleansing flights and the concerns about Nosema.

Nosema is a microscopic fungal organism that infects the gut of bees. Beekeepers have been taught that the symptoms of Nosema are defecation on and in the hive and that the correct treatment is Fumagillin-B.  As is the case with most pests and diseases, things are not as straightforward as that.

There are two different varieties of Nosema. The original Nosema apis, (more…)

Medications and Treatments – Introduction

A gentleman came into the shop a few day ago looking for Apistan and Terramycin.  When I asked him if he had American foulbrood, or high mite levels, he said no, he just treats in the spring with Apistan and Terramycin as part of his regime.  When I didn’t sell him either, he left in a huff, and we probably lost a customer.  This got me thinking (again) about what chemicals we carry in the store, what our responsibilities are to our customers, and what our responsibilities are to the bees and the planet.

As beekeepers, we are in a unique position.  We see firsthand what the effects of pesticides and other chemicals are.  We see it directly in dead colonies when an applicator violates the label and sprays fields that our bees are working.  We see it indirectly in increasing numbers of absconding colonies, decreasing queen quality, and many other aspects of beekeeping where we are left scratching our head wondering what happened.

You see, many of these chemicals build up in beeswax over time to the point where the very foundation (pun intended) of the comb the bees raise their young in, store their food in, and spend a large portion of their lives on, is contaminated to the point that it is adversely affecting their health. Two of the biggest wax contaminants, fluvalinate and coumaphos, are applied by beekeepers to control Varroa mites. This is why Kim Flottum, who certainly knows his beeswax, will not use commercially available wax foundations and instead uses only plastic foundation, or foundationless frames in his hives.

In addition, many of these chemicals are bad for us, the beekeepers.  Fumigilin-B lasts a very long time in honey and is believed to cause birth defects in mammals (a group to which we belong).

Another, possibly harder to understand or even verify, reason we should think before we act is that we don’t fully understand the complex environment inside a beehive. There are many microbes, fungi, and insects that live in the hive alongside our bees, and while some of them are problematic, many are benign and could even be beneficial.  What happens when we apply an antibiotic to a Nosema infected colony?  We certainly get rid of the Nosema, but what beneficial microbes are we destroying in the process?  What are the alternatives?

As owners of a beekeeping-supply store, we are in a unique position to see beekeeping on a larger scale than the typical backyard beekeeper.  We attend beekeeping meetings all over the area and talk with customers from Fort Collins, to Colorado Springs.  We even get visits from Nebraska, Kansas, Wyoming and New Mexico. In short, we talk to a lot of people about beekeeping.

We also have a unique responsibility.  Many people rely on us to answer questions about their bees. From questions about splits, to inspections, to what to do when their bees seem to be struggling.  We take this responsibility seriously.  We also understand that there are conflicting views about beekeeping, and animal stewardship and we aim to be as supportive of as many styles of beekeeping as we can.

Our goal is to help you raise the most successful, healthiest bees that you can. We don’t care if you run a top-bar hive to help out with pollinating your garden and are only interested in a little bit of honey or if you are a serious sideliner that needs some income from honey sales.  Your bees come first. If we can help you do that, we feel that the financial side of the business will take care of itself.

Over the next couple of months, we’ll be sharing our experience, research and opinions on various common pests and diseases that plague our bees.  We’ll share with you the conclusions that we’ve come to with regard to keeping your bees healthy when challenged by these things, so that we can start a healthy discussion about what chemicals we carry in the store, what chemicals we do not, and why.

Hopefully, the outcome will be a raised awareness and understanding of pest management, a healthier environment for your bees, and to some small degree, a healthier environment for us.


David and Ashley Baker

To Bee or Not To Bee