What should a beekeeper be doing this time of year - end of winter and the beginning of spring? What is different between the southern and the northern tier of States? Where do you start? What do you look for? What can you do? In today's...
What should a beekeeper be doing this time of year - end of winter and the beginning of spring? What is different between the southern and the northern tier of States?
Where do you start? What do you look for? What can you do?
In today's episode, we invite long time Ohio State University extension beekeeper and educator and cohost of the Honey Bee Obscura Podcast , Dr. James Tew, to talk with us about his experiences and insights into this important and potentially critical time of year.
You will be surprised by how these three beekeepers approach this question. (Or not... remember, three beekeepers... five ways of doing something...)
Late winter, early spring inspections start the beekeeping year. How you start, definitely effect the rest of the year.
Listen in and listen as three experienced beekeepers discuss their approaches to late winter, early spring management!
If you like this episode, share it with other beekeepers. Do you have a different approach? Leave a comment on the episode page and start a conversation!
Links and websites mentioned in this podcast:
We welcome Betterbee as sponsor of today's episode. BetterBee’s mission is to support every beekeeper with excellent customer service, continued education and quality equipment. From their colorful and informative catalog to their support of beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast series, BetterBee truly is Beekeepers Serving Beekeepers. See for yourself at www.betterbee.com
We welcome HiveAlive back as an episode sponsor. HiveAlive is the #1 liquid feed supplement for honeybees worldwide. It contains a unique blend of seaweed extracts, thyme and lemongrass. HiveAlive has been proven to increase bee strength, produce more honey, improved bee gut health and improved overwinter survival. Ask about HiveAlive and new HiveAlive Fondant & Pollen Patty at your local beekeeping store or visit the website www.usa.hivealivebees.com for more information.
This episode is brought to you by Global Patties! Global Patties is a family business that manufactures protein supplement patties for honey bees. Feeding your hives protein supplement patties will help ensure that they produce strong and health colonies by increasing brood production and overall honey flow. Global offers a variety of standard patties, as well as custom patties to meet your specific needs. Visit them today at http://globalpatties.com and let them know you appreciate them sponsoring this episode!
Thanks for Northern Bee Books for their sponsorship of Bee Books: Old & New with Kim Flottum. Northern Bee Books is the publisher of bee books available worldwide from their website or from Amazon and bookstores everywhere. They are also the publishers of The Beekeepers Quarterly and Natural Bee Husbandry. Check them out today!
Thanks to Strong Microbials for their support of Beekeeping Today Podcast. Find out more about heir line of probiotics in our Season 3, Episode 12 episode and from their website: https://www.strongmicrobials.com
We want to also thank 2 Million Blossoms as a sponsor of the podcast. 2 Million Blossoms is a regular podcast featuring interviews with leading bee and insect researchers in the world of pollination, hosted by Dr. Kirsten Traynor.
We hope you enjoy this podcast and welcome your questions and comments: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks to Bee Culture, the Magazine of American Beekeeping, for their support of The Beekeeping Today Podcast. Available in print and digital at www.beeculture.com
Thank you for listening!
Podcast music: Be Strong by Young Presidents; Epilogue by Musicalman; Walking in Paris by Studio Le Bus; Original guitar background instrumental by Jeff Ott
Beekeeping Today Podcast is an audio production of Growing Planet Media, LLC
Jeff Ott: Welcome to Beekeeping Today Podcast presented by Bee Culture. Beekeeping Today Podcast is your source for beekeeping news information and entertainment. I'm Jeff Ott.
Kim Flottum: I'm Kim Flottum.
Global Patties: Hey, Jeff, and Kim. Today's sponsor is Global Patties. They're a family-operated business that manufactures protein supplement patties for honeybees. It's a good time to think about honeybee nutrition. Feeding your hives protein supplement patties will ensure that they produce strong and healthy colonies by increasing brood production and overall honey flow. Now is a great time to consider what type of pattie is right for your area and your honeybees. Global offers a variety of standard patties as well as custom patties to meet your needs.
No matter where you are, Global is ready to serve you out of their manufacturing plants in Airdrie, Alberta, and in Butte, Montana, or from distribution depots across the continent. Visit them today at www.globalpatties.com.
Jeff: Thanks, Sherry, and thank you Global Patties. Each week we get to talk about how much we appreciate our sponsor support and we know you'd rather we get right to talking about bees. However, our super sponsors are critical to help making all of this happen. From the transcripts, the hosting fees, the software, the hardware, the microphones, the recorders. My God, the list keeps going. They enable each episode. So with that, thanks to Bee Culture magazine for continuing their presenting sponsorship of this podcast.
Bee Culture has been the magazine for American beekeeping since 1873. Subscribe to Bee Culture today. We want to welcome back HiveAlive as an episode sponsor. HiveAlive is a number one liquid feed supplement for honeybees worldwide. You can find out more at your local beekeeping store or visit www.usa.hivealivebees.com for more information. We also want to thank 2 Million Blossoms a sponsor of this episode. 2 Million Blossoms is dedicated to protecting all pollinators.
Listen to Kirsten Traynor's 2 Million Blossoms–The Podcast at www.2millionblossoms.com, and that is with a number two and you don't need the wwws. Available from your website of wherever you download your podcast. Hey, everybody. Thanks for joining us. We're really, really happy you're here. We have a very special show today. Joining us on Beekeeping Today Podcast directly from the Honey Bee Obscura recording studio is Dr. James Tew. Jim, welcome to Beekeeping Today.
Dr. James Tew: Well, thank you for having me here. I feel honored to be at the big table.
Jeff: It's just a different table. It's not the big table.
Jim: Oh, different. Okay.
Jeff: Hey, Kim, it's good seeing you there sitting at the table as well.
Kim: Yes, and it's good seeing Jim here with you, the three of us together. We all work for the same company, but we too seldom get together to have fun.
Jeff: Yes, I missed you guys this last week at the Tri-County meeting in Wooster, Ohio. Is it Wooster, Ohio? I can't remember. I always get it wrong. Woodster or Wooster?
Jim: It's Wooster, you got it.
Jeff: Wooster, yes.
Jim: Wooster, Ohio. I had a nice time. How about you, Kim?
Kim: Well, it was good seeing the folks from Betterbee and the folks from Global Patties, all the other people that were there, a lot of people were there. I haven't been to a big bee meeting in what? A couple of years? I think. It was nice to be in there and we did some work with ABC, with Jerry from Bee Culture.
Jim: That's good.
Kim: If you've got to spend a day away from home, that's the place to spend it.
Jim: A lot of bee people there, a lot of enthusiasm.
Jeff: That was my very first bee meeting I ever attended was the Tri-County meeting, way back in the way back days. Yes, it was pretty big. Pretty big.
Jim: Jeff, very quickly for the listeners who may not know, it's an Ohio meeting and it's been going on for decades and decades. It was started by an old beekeeper sitting around a wood-burning stove with four or five other beekeepers.
Jim: Now they routinely for years and years, they've been having all the high side of a thousand participants there at the Campus of Ohio State University in Wooster, Ohio. Every year, I'm long retired, but I'll still put a plug in every year, first weekend in March. You're welcome to be there.
Jeff: Yes, it's a good end-of-winter gathering of beekeepers and really mirrors what we're doing here today is the end of winter, beginning of springtime. First Beekeeping Today Podcast of March. Those are the things we want to talk about today is what should be keepers be looking at? First before we get into that, we have a quick word from our friends at Strong Microbials, and then we'll be right back.
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Jeff: While you're at the Strong Microbial site, make sure you click on and subscribe to The Hive, their regular newsletter full of interesting beekeeping facts and product information. Guys, we're just getting ready to talk about-- This can be an exciting time for beekeepers, their first spring visit to their hives. What are they likely to find?
Kim: Sometimes exciting isn't quite the right word, Jeff.
Kim: Sometimes it's a little less than exciting, but probably most people have been at least poking around in the winter looking for dead bees in the snow and that sort of thing and they've got a feel for is this hive alive, or is this hive not alive anymore? That's one of the first things that people are getting into is checking for dead outs. Right, Jim?
Jim: I completely agree with that for those of us in cold climates.
Kim: A gross generalization would be the first thing you do is find those that aren't alive and find out why. What was the cause of them passing? The ones that aren't dead is what do they need to get going? Because it's March already and pretty soon it all hits the fan and you want them ready, healthy, willing, and able to do what they going to do the rest of the season. What I start with is dead-outs. That's the first thing I do is I find a dead out and then I try and find out why, and there's a lot of good reasons. No, there ain't good reasons-
Jeff: [laughs] There 's a lot of bad reasons.
Jim: Yes, if they're my bees, there's a lot of good reasons why they're dead.
Kim: Jim and I are upper Northeast Ohio, it's winter, and it's going to be winter all week. Winter in and of itself doesn't kill colonies, but a lot of things that winter leads to does and starvation is the top of the list.
Jeff: Just a quick plug. I did leave a blog page on late winter and dead outs and dealing with that on our Beekeeping Today Podcast blog page with some pictures, folks might want to reference that later. I will challenge you, Kim, that I would think that Varroa and Varroa-associated disease is the number one cause of colony death this time of year as opposed to starvation. Starvation being the close second.
Kim: Well, it's a tough problem to solve. If you go into the colony and you've got-- Two things they look for in a colony dead out is the population. If you've got a lot of bees and a lot of honey then my first thought goes to mites, but if you got a lot of bees and no honey, then I start looking at was food the problem. If you don't have hardly any bees and you've got a lot of honey, then my first thought goes to not enough bees going into winter, they couldn't spread the cluster out big enough to get to the honey. It's over there an inch and a half away on the edge of the frame.
Jim: I was thinking whilst Kim was talking. I'm always eager to blame Varroa. It's my go-to source. Yes, I had Varroa issues when they died.
Jeff: Well, that's my going excuse.
Jim: Starvation is right up there with it. We are working to help our bees survive the winter under conditions that they wouldn't choose for themselves in nature. We need to supplement our procedure. We need to help them help themselves. What Kim was talking about controlling Varroa as much as possible, being sure that we have feed in the right place so they can get to it even though it's just an inch and a half away. Sometimes you can help but in late winter, early spring version, kind of limited what you can do. Give it your best shot, try to help these bees get to fruit bloom, then they'll take off on their own.
Kim: The other thing that I look at, and believe it or not, I've found this to be somewhat beneficial is if I've got a hive full of dead bees, I'm going to run a mite test on them and see what I can find. I have found over the course of the past several years that dead-out colonies have more mites this time of year than colonies that aren't dead out yet. It kind of points you in the direction of yes, it's probably at least mites end but it gives you a bigger picture. If you're looking at dead bees, what's it going to tell you? Well, it's going to tell you how many mites were on a half a cup of dead bees that fell to the bottom board.
Jeff: We've quickly swerved off into the dead outs and it's a very depressing subject and it's often used to be what, 10% of dead outs in the spring or so, now it's 40, 50, 60 80%. What a BIP reported last year was what 40% winter loss.
Kim: Right, but every data is a lesson learned.
Jeff: That's a good way at it.
Kim: Something went wrong and if you can pinpoint or at least get close to pinpointing why that colony didn't make it, that can teach you something you don't do it again next year. It might be mites, it might be food, it might be insulation, it might be-- Nailing it down this year will at least give you some idea of what not to do next year or what to do better next year.
Jeff: I think this is also a good time to make sure you take good notes, whether your notes are on a computer or in a notebook. Next fall, when I'm thinking about what happened, what were my dead outs last six months before, nine months before, I won't remember. I think it's a good opportunity, whatever your record-keeping system is, to make sure you list what you find in each dead out and what you suspect, right.
Kim: Take a picture.
Jeff: A picture is really worth a thousand words.
Jim: Well I want to say too that I'm surprised we are spending this much time on this. It is a gloomy subject but I think it serves a purpose because bees die all the time. Every season we have bees die, ones who we don't make it, or they don't survive the winter. No matter how much we may dislike it, dead bees is a way of beekeeping life, and what we do with them, how we determine why they died? Yes, I'll do everything I can to have it not happen next year, but it will probably for different reasons. Then I will just keep keeping bees, doing the best I can trying to keep my 60% alive.
Kim: I'd like to think that there's not an infinite number of reasons my colonies die.
Jeff: Let's take this to the next step. You determine you have dead out, what's the best course of action? It's beginning of March, you have a dead colony. Should a beekeeper sit there and painstakingly clean off each frame of dead bees and then put it back in the box? What's the process? What do you recommend for beekeepers?
Jim: Kim, go first because you may or may not be using comb as long as I do so you may have a different answer.
Kim: I probably do and I'll just take this from the lesson learned. Once you decided or you've got pictures or you got data that you can determine why that colony died, maybe they just flat ran out of food or they flat ran out of bees or there was mites or whatever. The first thing I do right at the top of my list is get rid of that black comb when I'm taking this thing apart, I'm taking boxes off and that black comb is out of here now. There is no way that can contribute to the health of a colony, in my opinion.
Jeff: This is when I get rid of all the comb that I got from the person I bought the nuc from in the prior spring because what they always give me in a nuc is that darkest, rottenest, dirtiest comb frames I've ever seen. I pull those right away. I'm sorry, that's just a personal interjection. [laughs]
Jim: I can tell that you had an emotional response to that. You got something you want to say, just come out and say it.
Jeff: No, I think I said it all.
Jim: Well, I knew Kim will go there. Kim and I have talked before. I have intentions of doing what Kim does but I just oftentimes, is still there. I'll pull the comb out, I'll put it to one side, this needs to be thrashed and then I'll pick up a swarm and you're in a hurry and there's that old comb. I don't want to offend Kim or you but I'll use this until I can get this swarm going and I'll take it back out. Overall, Kim, I do want to reassure you. I do call combs. What do we do? When that dead out turns up, what am I going to do there? I've got all these bees stuck in the cells, I got putrefying, rotting bees. It's a stinking, disgusting mess. I bang, shake, do whatever I can take to get as many bees out. Do what Kim does. Is this comb too dark, too old, too soiled. Toss it, keep it, try to select what can be used again, try to select what can be fixed, burn the rest.
Jeff: Yes, it's a nasty job. Hey, before we go much further, let's hear from our good friends at HiveAlive.
HiveAlive: We welcome HiveAlive back as an episode sponsor. HiveAlive is the number one liquid feed supplement for honeybees worldwide. It contains a unique blend of seaweed extracts, thyme, and lemongrass. HiveAlive has been proven to increase bees strength, produce more honey, improve bee gut health and improve overwinter survival. Ask about HiveAlive and new HiveAlive Fondant and pollen patty at your local beekeeping store or visit the website usa.hivealivebees.com for more information
Jeff: Hey, thanks a lot HiveAlive. Everybody, make sure you add HiveAlive to your spring management feeding program. I know there's been a discussion on one of the listservs for beekeeping and disposal of frames with the plastic foundation. You shouldn't theoretically burn plastic foundation.
Kim: Yes, it is-- well, we're doing some work on climate change is a contributor to that, if nothing else, the pollution that it causes. I don't burn the plastic. I get rid of the wax. I don't use the wax either but, Jeff, let me go back a half a step and talk about that nuc you bought. There's some good ways to reduce, not eliminate, but reduce that problem. The way that I found that works best for me is I take those frames from that nuc, I put them in a bottom box and put a queen excluder. No, no, I don't put a queen excluder I put a box on top with a comb of brood from another colony and honey up above, and the bees from that nuc will move up pretty fast.
If there's any brood from the nuc, you move that up too. They move up pretty fast off those little raunchy combs. As soon as they're up there, we get rid of them, get rid of that box, or at least get rid of those combs. That's right on the top of your list. It's not wait until-- let's see how they do. Let's do this afternoon.
Jeff: When you install the nuc.
Kim: Right. Exactly.
Jeff: Well, good advice. I will have opportunity to use it this spring.
Kim: The next thing that actually comes up, of course, is the brighter side of the story is you take that cover off or you walk up that hive and you're looking at the front door and there's bees coming in and out and a couple of them got pollen and they're jammed up on that entrance reducer. They can't get in and out fast enough and you did something right.
Jeff: That's a good feeling. As a beekeeper, when you can see them bringing in pollen, and they're working even on the sunny days when it's 46 degrees there and they're bringing in pollen from hazelnuts or wherever the early pollen plants, that's a good feeling.
Kim: It is and the next thing to do is to get in there and say okay, "What are they going to need next week? It looks like they're doing things now but--" I say this carefully because it's almost always true. I'm always looking at next week, not tomorrow because they're a week ahead of me almost always. What are they going to be needing next week? That's the first thing. You mentioned one good thing is Global Patties, a protein supplement. If there's pollen coming in and you got more pollen than you need, that's one thing. Northeast Ohio, I don't have more pollen coming in than I need until I got goldenrod most years. I'm looking at--
Jeff: Wait a minute, that comes in in August, doesn't it?
Jeff: Just just making sure.
Jim: He's thinking of work ahead, he warned you now, he has upfront.
Kim: I'd rather have it and don't need it rather than need it and don't have it and that's just always kind of a rule of thumb for me. I'd rather give them too much and have them ignore it, but then you've got-- and I'll bring this back up to that dead out again. One of the things we didn't look at is small hive beetle. What role do they play in dead outs? Did you have small hive beetle, Jim, this year?
Jim: I do have small hive beetle. I don't have them at toxic levels but I have them enough to say there's a small hive beetle. I've not yet had them overrun colonies. Knock on wood, not too late.
Kim: Well, I haven't either. I attribute it to the wonderful level of cement soil we have here in Northeast Ohio. It's lake bottom clay, and it's as hard as a rock all summer long. It helps us in terms of small hive beetle population, but there's a lot of places that don't have that and small hive beetle population can be-- This time of year, if a lot of them overwintered and sometimes that happens and you don't have a big bee population yet, you could have a problem.
Jeff: I don't want to say this because I don't want to jinx the Pacific Northwest beekeepers, but at least where we are in the Olympia area, I have not heard of any beekeeper talking about small hive beetle.
Jim: Don't jinx anything because you've got the crazy hornet coming in there.
Jeff: Maybe we could throw them in as a side. For the Asian giant hornet, we can say, "Well, we got small hive beetle. Maybe you want those instead?" No, that won't work.
Jim: No, it won't work. Jeff and Kim, there's a group of beekeepers here that I hope some are listening in that are thinking that they are well beyond all of this. If you're in a warm climate, you're in Nashville, Tennessee South, you've already seen pollen flows coming in. You're well beyond this dead out clean up thing, you're already having some concerns about early-onset swarming and making splits and divides and got some queen cells going already. This seasonal slide across the country is really interesting. While some people are still cleaning up from winter, other people by my standards are already halfway through springtime.
Kim: Or even more than halfway. That's one of the reasons we have our regional beekeepers show every once in a while to compare and contrast. We've got Mark in North Carolina and people here in Ohio and Colorado, and a lot on the West Coast so you get a picture of the whole country at one time and the differences going on.
Jeff: A couple of weeks ago, we were talking with John Miller about prepping for their own pollination and the bees there are just bursting at the seams to be ready. You're right, Jim. That's a very valid point for those beekeepers in those areas. What does March look like to you down in Alabama?
Jim: We're already in South Alabama and North Florida. It never really was winter. It just kind of cooled down some. The biggest thing is all that rain everybody had all through the season and the thing being flooded and washed away. Right now pollen has been coming in already for about five weeks or so on nice days. The bees are incredibly good at finding the most picayune smallest source of anything, water, nectar, pollen. They're really good at it. You stand and you watch those bees, they're also bringing in pollen and you have no idea. You think you know where it came from but by now in March in the Deep South, they're already well underway, good brood patterns, full frames.
They're pumped up, they're looking good. Beekeepers are thinking, "This is going to be the year. This is going to be a great year." That's the time of the year to think that.
Kim: Of course, that's that's why we're able to get packages and nucs from down south now when we need them. When we are just starting to build, they've been building for five, six weeks. They're looking to-- I don't want them to swarm.
Jim: Well, they got it much in California too because they've got weather just as beautiful as anything of the South. I appreciate those people helping me replace my dead outs every year.
Jeff: Well, and as we've talked about before not only do they help us that's being developed into a quite a business for those beekeepers who are providing those pollination services and for those beekeepers in the South. Providing bees for other beekeepers is profitable now.
Kim: The industry is moving in that direction, unfortunately. It'll be interesting to see what happens to the market if and when this tariff shakes out, that may work on the price of honey. For now, Jim, I got another quick question for you. I'll move back up North again, it's March and you've got a colony that made it through, it's not real strong. You've got food in there. You got a queen that's laying. If you're looking right now in our part of Ohio, about how many frames with brood would you expect to see or would you hope to see on a colony that's moderately to very healthy?
Jim: Oh, Kim, that's going to be a guess on my part. I would really love to see two frames, if I saw three frames, I'd be happy. That's a patch of brood bigger than the palm of my hand on three or four three frames or so.
Kim: You don't have Russians, do you?
Kim: Russians, you're going to see less in my experience. I have to sit back and wait. I got to wonder about the evolution of Russians. They're sitting there waiting, they're waiting, they're waiting, they're waiting, boom, they explode. That waiting time drives me crazy. I'm waiting. I'm watching bloom come and go. Another bloom come and go and there's still now she's starting and then I come out there a day later and I don't have enough room.
Jim: I'm still trying to accept what you just said about waiting driving you crazy because in beekeeping, it's just one waiting event after another. You're always waiting for the nectar flow to start. You're waiting to see if they release that queen. You're waiting to see if the new queen began to lay. I mean, it's always do something and wait. Is it not unlike gardening? I want to plant something and the next day, I want to see some results.
Kim: You want to be eating what you planted.
Jeff: Well, hey, one of the other things that beekeepers are doing right now is they're assembling equipment, and who other than Betterbee to provide that equipment for you? Let's hear from them right now.
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Jeff: Let's talk real briefly about beekeeping equipment in the springtime. As a beekeeper standing there in their garage or their shed or out in the bee yard looking at their equipment, how should they evaluate their existing equipment and plan for replacing anything?
Jim: Oh, Jeff. That's going to be an opinionated person. What can you live with, Jeff? How much rot and decay can you live with?
Jeff: Well, that's right. Is it really just a matter of personal taste and what you want to see or is there a function or a reason why you should discard a piece of equipment?
Jim: Normally, this is going to be hard to answer, Jeff, I will use a piece of equipment until it's just really done. The corners are rotted out. If you had to close that colony up to move it or if you had to deal with robbing, there's just too many holes. There's too many cracks and crevices. We've already talked about the frames, they should go fairly frequently but that box probably will go about seven years. In reality, after four years, five years, it's going to be showing some wear. You're going to have to toss it when you just can't live with it anymore.
If I may a very short story. When I was a young beekeeper, I found an abandoned bee yard. I couldn't believe it. There must have been 25 or 30 of the most ragtag, unkept-looking beehives I've ever seen. I went straight to the local inspector and found the listed owner of that yard and contacted them, only to be told that those bees was fine. That yard was fine, and they would appreciate it if I just stay out of their bee yard. What I thought was an abandoned yard was another beekeepers perspective of correctness and fineness. When does someone discard equipment? When does someone just use a flat board cover? When does someone lay a piece of galvanized 10 for the telescoping cover? That's all your call, that's whoever you are and what you can live with. The bees will be surprisingly fine with any of it so long as they're out of the weather.
Kim: I've got a rule of thumb for boxes. Frames, you know what I do with already but I got a rule of thumb for boxes, I've been using 8 frame mediums forever. An 8 frame medium box is not your biggest, strongest piece of equipment, beekeeping equipment you can have, it's not a 10 frame deep. When I look at an 8 frame medium, if I won't sit on it, it's too old, too weak, too useless to use and that's kind of the way it goes. If you sit down and it kind of collapses on you, it's too old. That's my rule of thumb. That's kind of how I look at a box.
Jeff: You give it the old sit test.
Kim: Well, actually it's a foot test because sitting can hurt.
Jim: I don't think I've ever heard of-- Have you got a fact sheet on that or something you could send me to a URL?
Jeff: Video, YouTube video.
Jim: Kim Flawdem's crush test of old equipment.
Jeff: Actually, too bad we don't do TikToks, we could do some videos a little TikTok shorts with some music behind it.
Jim: Yes, just loop that for us, would you?
No flower boxes for this man, boy - he crushes his.
Kim: That's right. On the other hand, I've never had a hive collapse, I've never had a box break, I've never had a roof fall so I look at that.
Jim: That's true.
Jeff: Well, what about bottom boards? They take a lot of abuse and they're sitting down in the muck and mess and often neglected. They collect all the moisture through the winter and summer, and what about replacing those in the springtime?
Jim: First of all, I don't know if I'm gonna offend Kim or not, but I'll leave mine set to the three-eights inch opening year-round, instead of flipping bottom boards, three quarters and three-eighths. I always run the three-eighths inch opening and then it's easier to keep mice out, and it's the same thing as the deep-set sit on it. All right, has it begun to rot out along the edges? Will the bottom board still stand the weight? Because otherwise, Kim is exactly right. If that colony acquires heavyweight during the season, and it's sitting on a rotting decaying bottom board, there's a surprisingly good chance that colony will at least lean and ultimately actually fall if the bottom board rots out from under it.
Jeff: Neither of a year’s bottom boards. Is that correct? If I recall.
Kim: Correct. Well, I don't. You mentioned lean and I've got a leaning problem right now that I can't get to for just a little bit yet is my hive stands are cement blocks with 4 x 4s on them. I will make a hive stand big enough for three colonies and put two on it that way, I've got an empty spot in the middle to put all my boxes when I'm working either colony. I made this new hive stand last year and it worked just fine. With all the rain we've had this year, one side of those cement blocks is sinking down about three inches and I got the colonies that are looking at the ground instead of looking out right now.
Jim: Listen, both of you. I'm not one to really speak to the advertiser but ironically, from one of our sponsors, I bought two of those communal hive stand racks, you have to pay for all of them, they are not free. Then I can get three or four bee colonies on each of those and they're adjustable in height so you can level them out. This sounds like a flagrant commercial, and I suppose in a way it is an unintended commercial, but it's a nice looking stand. That has stopped mine from leaning nearly as badly when you have this heavy-duty, no-nonsense, hive rack set up. It'll take three or four colonies.
Jeff: That's really good when setting up a yard, finding level spots or creating level spots is always troubling. I guess it's my warped mind of trying to find symmetry and everything, I want everything almost-- I've never taken a level out to the bee yard but boy, I sure look at it with a thumb trying to just make sure they're sitting straight [crosstalk].
Jim: I like them level too. It's too expensive to do routine lead but there's a leveling platform that goes beneath air conditioner devices that sit outside. I've paid $40 each for two of those and then you drive that big plastic platform into the ground, set a beehive on it and it has been remarkably level. The problem is those things are not cheap, and they're heavy, and they're fairly hard to get.
Kim: Well, I've never had this problem before. So much rain that, of course, I've never had a hive stand in this location. The rain we had this fall and winter was way more than anticipated and it collected on one side of the cement block and not the other and down they went. New home next spring, or this spring.
Jim: Kim and Jeff, I'd like to go back just a minute to those bottom boards. When you said do I use screen bottom boards, I'm probably half and half. I'm probably half and half because I use equipment so long sometimes the bottom boards have been holding up so they're still solid bottom boards. Then screen bottom boards came in and they're all the rage, everybody was using those, and so I've got some screen bottom boards. They have pros and cons. I don't want to offend anybody, I'd probably just stay with solid bottom boards mainly because I move beehives occasionally. I want that solid heavy-duty bottom board underneath there and I don't want the tongue on my hand trap to push up through that wire grid underneath.
Having said that, sometimes it's really convenient to see what the bees are doing. If you've just put on an old deep and the bees are cleaning it up, you can look at that detritus underneath the beehive and see what the bees are cleaning up, what's dropping out, what they're doing. Sometimes there are some interesting reasons for having to screen bottom boards. I'm probably pretty close to 50-50, and that's pretty much where my opinion is give or take, it can go either way.
Jeff: Whatever you have close to hand.
Jim: Whatever you have that's close at hand that will help me get that swarm, that's the piece of equipment I want.
Jeff: Back to the late winter, early spring check and we want to take a look at the bees. You talked about maybe having the queen who's working maybe at this point, maybe two or three frames with a palm-size of brood on either side. What temperature do you feel comfortable, outside temperature do you feel comfortable opening that colony? How deep do you go into a hive at that point?
Jim: Kim, you want to go?
Kim: 60 degrees or above. I'll take her cover off, I'll look down. I may crack the top super and lift it up and just look but I don't do anything in the hive until it's 60 or above. I'll look at it is how much wind do I have blowing and if it's windy and 62, I probably will wait.
Jim: I.m going to just go with Kim mostly on that, I'd probably go in cooler. It needs to be a good reason, it shouldn't just be, "I think I'll go out and torment my bees." There needs to be a good management reason for doing it and I'd love to do it starting 10 o'clock, 10:30 in the morning. I'd like to think that the rest of the day is going to be nice and the bees would have a chance to recover by three o'clock so they can cluster back up if they had to and be ready to go again in my backyard here, in my own yard. There needs to be a reason. That these bees need feeding, are these bees queen right? Are there signs of mites or small hive beetle doing anything already? I agree with Kim. The warmer it is, the better it is but you don't always get those days.
Jeff: No, Kim said 60 degree days and I'm thinking, well, that's not going to be until June here so yes, that's a good point. One last management question because we're coming up on our time is and maybe a short answer from both of you. When you're able to open up the hive and take a peek inside, what are the signs that you'll recognize that indicate perhaps the queen is starting to fail and needs to be replaced in the spring?
Jim: Jeff, help me out. When are we opening this colony?
Jeff: Well, let’s say at the beginning of April.
Jim: At the beginning of April, when you go up to that colony, it's a nice day, the other colonies are flying, everything looks good. This colony should be doing that too and it's not, that's going to be an indication before I ever even take anything off that something's not right. Then if you take the top off and they're not bees around the inner cover handhold of any consequence, I mean right away, you've got a sense if you've been keeping bees three or four or five years that based on the other three colonies that are here, this colony should be doing this too. I'm expecting to see something wrong with the queen when I get down into that brood nest because I've already been warned that something's not the same as what the other colonies are showing.
Kim: I think the only thing I could add to that on a day like that or that time of year, the first thing I do is I take a good deep whiff, what does this colony smell like? My face right down on the top bars. The colonies that you were just talking about that got pollen coming in, bees coming and going and the queens doing good, they got a smell.
We did a program on Honey Bee Obscura on smells of colonies and this is one of them. It's a good smell and it's a pollen smell, it's a honey smell and it's a bee smell, all combined. If you don't have that, you don't have nearly as much honey, you don't have nearly as much pollen because they are not bringing any in.
Jim: That's right.
Kim: To me, that's become a pretty good key in determining what's going on, is that first deep whiff that I take. If it's good, it's spring, and if it's not, darn.
Jim: Kim, do you remember now, we did two episodes on colony smells?
Kim: Yes, we did.
Jim: We did the good smells and we did one on the stank smells because there are some smells a colony can put out that really warn you of various foulbrood diseases or that something's not right. You're right there too, boys, sniffing a beehive, smelling that good spring day when apple blooms there. There's good smells and bad smells. You're right. You're right.
Jeff: That's a good point. Good point. All right, guys. We're coming up to the end of the show. Quick roundtable, what's had you captivated this week about honey bees?
Kim: Go ahead, Jim.
Jim: I've got to tell you straight up, this is the time of the year when I analyze the bees I've got left and I try to decide how much of my money that I want to invest and replace my bees. That's the place I am at. Should I buy packages or should I buy splits? Can you buy splits, raise them out, get a queen, divide the split, be better than buying two packages with queens? That's been tying me up and this ties me up every year at this season of the year while I'm waiting for my replacement bees to come in.
Kim: I guess I'm a little different. About a week ago, we had more snow than you can imagine. I waited out there to take a look and there wasn't a dead bee one in the snow. Tell me why. That's what I've been thinking about. Are there no bees out there? There were bees out there a little bit before this, but there weren't any. It's going to have to be another few days before I get out there.
At the same time, we've had more, what's the word I want, snow occurrences this year than in a long time, maybe since I've been here in Northeast Ohio. It's snowed more times and it's snowed more snow than I can remember. I've been doing a lot of work with the effects of climate change on bees and beekeepers and beekeeping in parts of the country and parts of the world. Suddenly, I'm looking at is this what's going on in my bee yard? I'm worried about what's going on out there. I won't know for a couple more days.
Jeff: Right. I can add to that, that you guys both know I like the combination of technology in the honeybees. I've got more sensors and whatnot on my honey bees than I probably should. This week got bit by the shutdown of the 3G network. I'm going back to my old beekeeping ways of having to go out and actually look at the bees instead of sit here at the desk and look at the monitors and sensors. I'm going to have to deal with the lack of 3G and whether I need to update that or how I'm going to do without technology in the next coming time. I don't know, it's going to be horrible. [laughs] All right.
Kim: I'm sitting here talking about squishing boxes and you're talking about 3G technology. I guess that tells me where I'm at in that. [laughs]
Jeff: No, they all have their place I guess.
Jim: Resisting moving to what, 5G, you'll be fine. You'll be fine.
Jeff: I don't know, I don't know. I got to go home and talk to my wife about how we can afford this upgrade and she's going to say to me, "I thought you're going to make money with bees." [laughs]
Kim: If it gets to be too much, go crush a few boxes, that's what Kim does.
Jeff: [laughs] That about wraps up for this episode. Before we go, I want to encourage our listeners, rate us five stars on Apple Podcasts wherever you download and stream the show. Your vote helps other beekeepers find us quicker. Even better, write a review and let other beekeepers looking for a new podcast know what you like.
You can get there directly from our website by clicking on Reviews along the top of any webpage. As always, we thank Bee Culture, the magazine for American beekeeping for their continued support of Beekeeping Today podcast. We want to thank our regular episode sponsor, Global Patties. Check them out globalpatties.com. Thanks to HiveAlive for returning to and sponsoring this episode.
Check out their honeybee feed supplements at www.usa.hivealivebees.com. We want to thank Strong Microbials for their support of the podcast. Check out their probiotic line at www.strongmicrobials.com. We want to thank Betterbee for being there as a supporter. Check out all their great supplies at www.betterbee.com. Finally, we want to thank you, the Beekeeping Today podcast listener, for joining us on this show. Feel free to send us questions and comments at email@example.com. We'd love to hear from you. Hey, guys, anything else you want to mention?
Kim: Yes, just one thing, Jeff. You mentioned the questions. You go to the web page, there's a link there that you can click. You don't have to go to any place. You just go to click on that link and you can ask us a question. The other thing is if there's something on this show today you think that you'd like to share, reach out, share it with people that you know that might benefit from some of this information.
Jim: Well, from my perspective, I was a bit of a visitor here. I'd like to say thanks to both of you for letting me come play. I had a nice time. I'll go back to my Honey Bee Obscura sandbox now and I'll play on that. I'll be waiting to sit to talk to Kim sometime later this week.
Jeff: Sounds good. We enjoyed having you on the show, Jim.
Jim: Thank you.
Jeff: Thank you, guys.
Kim: Thanks for joining us, everybody.
[00:47:08] [END OF AUDIO]
Cohost, Author, PhD
Dr. James E. Tew is an Emeritus Faculty member at The Ohio State University. Jim is also retired from the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. During his forty-eight years of bee work, Jim has taught classes, provided extension services, and conducted research on honey bees and honey bee behavior.
He contributes monthly articles to national beekeeping publications and has written: Beekeeping Principles, Wisdom for Beekeepers, The Beekeeper’s Problem Solver, and Backyard Beekeeping. He has a chapter in The Hive and the Honey Bee and was a co-author of ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture. He is a frequent speaker at state and national meetings and has traveled internationally to observe beekeeping techniques.
Jim produces a YouTube beekeeping channel, is a cohost with Kim Flottum on the Honey Bee Obscura podcast, and has always kept bee colonies of his own.