July Apiary Notes from Wally Thrale

We are approaching mid-July which is the time when wasps tend to make their appearance around our colonies. Being prepared is better than trying to stop wasps once they have targeted a hive. It is a good idea to reduce entrances down to around an inch or so, smaller than this for nucs. Once wasps have found a way into a hive it is very difficult to stop them. They can easily take out a weak colony or nuc in a short time. They then move on to the next target. Do get the foam ready and apply soon.

We will need to consider taking away supers for extraction when the honey flow finishes although I hear from some members that supers are being filled at the moment. The end of a honey flow becomes quite obvious by looking at the entrance as there will be little flying activity. In fact we should always look at the hive entrance as it gives an indication of the state of a colony.

At the end of the season (typically end of July to early August) there are often super frames that are not capped over as the bees are waiting or hoping for another nectar flow. By having local knowledge of the local flora we will know if another flow is likely or not. It is best to leave supers on the hive for a few days when a flow has finished to allow time for the bees to ripen the latest batch.

Uncapped frames can be extracted but do the ‘shake’ test first. Hold the frame firmly with one side facing downwards and give a good shake. If no honey falls out it is safe to extract the frame. If honey does fall out put these frames back into a separate super and return to the bees for a few days, where they will finish ripening the honey.

To remind you, the Association has several extractors around the county which can be borrowed at no cost (see p64 of the Yearbook). Obviously, they may be in demand around early August so be aware that you may have to wait a little while.

Many beekeepers treat for varroa in August which means no honey should be present. Some members are reducing varroa treatment to once a year or have apiaries that are not treated at all. Personally, I shall continue to treat for varroa until I see strong evidence to show that this regime is sustainable. Remember the adage that ‘dead bees don’t produce much honey!’ At the end of these notes are descriptions of various types of varroa treatment available. This is taken from 2020 notes but I thought it might be helpful to give an overview here of most available treatments.

Next Tuesday (19th July) we will run a Zoom session to talk over any of these points or anything else you may wish to ask. The invitation will be sent out nearer the time.

Finally, it is not too late to make nucs to overwinter and is something all beekeepers should try to do in case of a bad winter. An easy way to produce queen cells is by the Miller method which is described below.

A colony can be deliberately made queenless by moving the queen and a couple of frames of brood with bees into a nuc or killing the queen in a colony which does not have favourable characteristics. Move the nuc to another apiary to prevent foragers returning home. Now go to another colony which has desirable traits and place a frame with foundation in the middle of the nest. After a few days (around 4 to 6) the bees normally draw the frame sufficiently to allow the queen to lay. This does require a flow of honey in order for the comb to be built. Check the frame after 5 days and, if eggs are present, shake the bees off and cut out ‘V’ shaped angles at the bottom of the frame so there is a gap between the comb and the bottom bar.

Place the frame of eggs in the queenless colony but knocking down all the queen cells first that the bees have built since becoming queenless. Also place a frame containing lots of pollen next to the eggs so the nurse bees have easy access to protein. After 7 days the bees will produce queen cells ready to harvest, normally along the edges of the ‘V’ cut-out. The number will depend on the time year, how strong the colony is and the strain of bees.

Nucs can now be made up to receive a queen cell which can be cut out of the frame using a sharp DIY blade. Cut well away from the queen cell going deep into worker cells so that the queen cell is not damaged. Make the nuc up a couple of hours before adding the queen cell so the bees know they are queenless. Then place a cut out queen cell between the top bars of frames in the centre of the nuc and move the frames together slightly to hold the queen cell in place. Leave the nuc for two to three weeks after which time eggs should be present. If available, add a frame of sealed brood from another colony to boost its numbers. If a polynuc is used the bees produced this time of year will tick over until next spring when they can be transferred to a full colony.



Varroa treatments.
When treating my bees for varroa is never to do it when honey is present. This way I know I cannot contaminate the honey regardless of what the instructions say. For some products the honey must be removed and some say it is ok to treat with it present. I prefer to take supers away and then I know I am completely safe.

Most varroa treatments are harsh and make life for bees unpleasant. The aim of treatments is to be strong enough to kill mites but not the bees. But without treatment most colonies will die out. This statement can open a can of worms so I’ll leave it at that.

MAQS – formic acid is the active substance and you can tell as soon as the lid is removed from the container even when the pads are still in their wrapping. The smell is very strong and I wouldn’t want to be exposed to the substance for any period of time. Many people find it very effective and the treatment is over in 7 days. There are reports of it killing queens if there is not enough ventilation. Recently I heard of someone who lost a lot of bees as well as the queen when treating with MAQS – so be very careful and follow the instructions closely.

Apiguard – contains thymol in two trays and takes four weeks to treat (two weeks per tray). This product is temperature sensitive so must be used in August whilst we have good daytime warmth. My view is that it can have variable effectiveness and can also put the queen off lay at a time when I feel she should be producing the winter bees. Read the instructions carefully as mesh floors must be blanked off and ventilation restricted.

Apivar – the active ingredient is Amitraz. The treatment time is six to ten weeks using two strips per hive and is very effective. However, if the product is used each year mites can develop resistance and then it will become unusable. This happened years ago with Apistan when the mites developed resistance. So varroa treatments should be changed each year to prevent mites developing resistance.

Apistan / Bayvarol  – these are similar products. Apistan contains fluvalinate and Bayvarol flumethrin. The treatment is the same as Apivar – two strips per hive for a minimum of six weeks. All treatments using strips should be removed before winter as they become weaker over time. This means that mites then can then tolerate the weaker dosage and develop resistance in this way.

Oxalic Acid – Treatment can be either by trickling or vaporisation; both are effective although vaporisation is reported to be more effective. Vaporisation requires a car battery and a hot plate plus a breathing mask as oxalic fumes are dangerous to humans. For trickling there are 3 approved products (Api-Bioxal, Oxybee and Oxuvar). I have only used the trickle method and found it to be very effective.

My current regime is a mixture of oxalic acid trickling in winter and spraying Varroamed in March / April and August. This product does not kill mites but causes them to fall off the bee as they do not like the taste. So, it is essential to use open mesh floors without the insert so the mites fall on the ground. The aim of my regime is to prevent mite levels becoming too high where they can cause damage to the brood – hence the different treatments during the year.  The product is sprayed onto the top of brood bars. It has little impact on the bees (it does contain oxalic acid but much weaker than the winter treatment). As mentioned, this is applied twice during the active season – once before supers are added and again when they are removed. Oxalic acid is then trickled between seams of bees just before xmas. Oxalic acid in winter can be used only once as it affects the gut of bees. As I mentioned earlier most treatments are harsh on bees but this regime seems to me to be the least harmful.

You may want to place the plastic insert under the floor (if the product you are using does not require the floor to be ventilated) to monitor mite drop. There can be wide variations between colonies in their mite knock down which often comes as a surprise. Personally, I do not use inserts as my floors are homemade and do not take an insert. However, I regularly remove drone pupae during the main part of the season and look for mites on the developing drones. This normally gives a good indication if there is a mite problem or not. Another thing to look for are bees with deformed wings (DWV) which can indicate that there is a mite issue if many bees are affected.

There are other products on the market but I have not tried them so I have not mentioned them in these Notes. My aim here is to give an appreciation of the popular products and issues there may be in their use. But do treat with something otherwise your bees may not survive till next spring.