This year Dr. Meghan Milbrath offered nucs of two different heredities.

The first kind, like last year’s nucs, would be raised using queens from her hives that overwintered in Michigan. Their offspring will carry genes vetted by several years of Michigan seasons, especially the harsh winters.

The second kind will be raised with open-mated daughters of two queens she sent to Florida with Huff’s Honey Farm of Pennsylvania. These queens are daughters from the "ankle-biter" queens developed by Dr. Greg Hunt of Purdue University in Indiana.

These bees have been selectively bred for grooming behavior that includes biting the legs off varroa. The crippled mites should then be less agile and less able to climb aboard bees for their pestilential, hemolyphagous acts or enter brood cells to reproduce.

Correction. The wounded mite does not heal and soon dies of dehydration. Even better.

While we much prefer to obtain hardy, local bees, the ankle-biting behavior sounds too interesting not to try just because of Florida paternity. We ordered two all-Michigan nucs and one ankle-biter.

The warm Saturday (40°F/5°C) should have seen cleansing flights but there were none. Out we went to thump the hives with rubber mallet in hopes of rousting a guard bee or two or, at least, raising a buzz audible through our stethoscope. No joy at all.

Removing the roof from Beatrix exposed some mouse nesting material atop the eke, which itself was intact. Lifting the eke and opening the hive we found combs of plentiful honey and, as expected, dead bees, most on the floor and a lesser number in cluster. There was also a snugly nested live mouse, which we evicted. At least there was no sign of damp.

Disheartened and learning nothing useful from our comb-by-comb inspection we gave Clarissa and Dorcas the most cursory of examinations merely to establish that they were mouse-free and turned to Dr. Meghan Milbrath for professional help in conducting the post mortem on the other two hives. While she rightly warned us that it could be difficult to come to a specific conclusion for the reasons for a deadout, we were rightly certain that she could point out things we had missed and their significance.

The following Tuesday we opened Clarissa and Dr. Milbrath worked her way through the hive from the follower board towards the brood nest. The combs began with a good number full of honey. Then a few less full and with some uncured honey. Finally in the brood nest, a small cluster around the original marked queen at the top of the comb. And eggs! Also a small bit of bee feces. But her most critical observation was how many of the odd flecks of detritus on the floor were dead varroa. Dorcas showed a similar pattern with an even larger brood chamber. We had certainly been lulled into false security by the lore that says first-year colonies need not worry about varroa. While often true any colony with a lot of brood is vulnerable, even a first-year if it grows to strength quickly.

The scenario proposed by Dr. Milbrath as likely is that the varroa weakened and killed many of the winter bees, those produced at the end of summer. That alone could have doomed our colonies but the warm spell we had made things worse by prompting the queen to lay eggs. When the temperature again dropped the diminished colony could not re-enter cluster as it fecklessly tried to keep the new brood warm and was further diminished. In addition the uncured honey may have fermented and sickened any consumers. Finally the tendency to climb rather than move to another comb for food would work against such a small colony even if it were not stuck trying to protect brood.

To prevent a recurrence with the nucs we have ordered for this year our plan is:

  • Monitor varroa, remove drone comb judiciously, and be ready to intervene with gentle chemicals.

  • Apply a mouse guard of some kind in the fall since our single entrance hole is less inaccessible to the little rodents than we had thought.

  • Crowd the bees once the drones are gone, that is, be slow in adding topbars. This will encourage the bees to backfill and cure the honey nearest the brood nest.

  • Be less timid about working the hives in colder weather.

  • In winter add a spacer under the eke where food can be placed (candy board or honeycomb from the back of the hive) and spread top bars to allow access to it.

  • Improve ventilation by make holes in the styrofoam top of the eke. This would allow gentle diffusion of air through the wool batting beneath without risking drafts. Possibly add small upper entrances or vent holes to the hive body.

Some of these are leading us away from our inclination to let the bees manage on their own as they see fit but that has not been working out well for them.

This is rather old news by now but our niece’s hive, all tucked up for winter, fell victim to vandalism last mid-December. At first we were too shocked and sorrowful to record it here; then too busy and distracted; then simply remaining at a loss for words. But here it is written at last.

The stack of hive bodies was knocked over in the night, presumably by the angry, shouty, possibly drunk or drugged individual heard noisily passing through the area. The next morning some dead bees were found clinging to the frames but most had gone away. She reassembled the hive in the slim hope that they would return but that did not happen.

Heartsick as she is, she is looking forward to starting again. We can not resist the inaccurate joke that she has been bitten by the bug. And there is, at least, honey to harvest.

Time once again for the January tradition of sifting through the search terms that led querents to our blog in the previous year so that we may present our readers with the more interesting or fun ones. Sadly, there is poor sport this year. Most searches were quite straightforwardly seeking common information about mundane beekeeping with none giving opportunity to explore any of its little known aspects and, worse for this post, few bewildering phrases lending themselves to gentle mockery. We considered omitting the follies post this year but finally decided to do the best we could with the material at hand and hope for better fodder next year. Here we go then starting with the usual top three search terms and general observations.

  • The most exciting news for us is that the tiresome Boardman feeder queries have lost first place to queries involving yellow jackets, which made up 22% of the searches. The wasps appear to have been particularly numerous this year.

  • Boardman feeder searches still ranked high, managing to score second place with 13% of queries. How the mighty have fallen not low enough.

    Why do these things hold a greater fascination than even honey extraction?

  • Dr. Meghan MilbrathThird place, with 11% of the searches, were queries about Dr. Meghan Milbrath, who has very deservedly become a much-loved, local, beekeeping celebrity. In addition to her own business providing nucleus hives, queens, and mentoring she presides over the Ann Arbor Backyard Beekeepers, teaches beekeeping classes, seems to attend every beekeeping conference and visit every beekeeping club in the state, and speaks in a variety of other venues to promote beekeeping. Her indefatigability would put a forager to shame.

  • There were no searches this year for construction of Tanzanian hives. Have inquiring beekeepers despaired of our ever posting such a thing?

  • Text searches again vastly outnumber image searches.

  • Our querents again page through many search engine results to touch our blog.

And now the search terms that caught our notice.

a bee balm plant with a freakish 5 tier flower head – 5 views

Large two-headed monardaWe have written a post or two about bee balm sometimes developing a secondary flower head growing out of the primary. But a quinary head? Freakish indeed for monarda fistulosa but not for some other monarda varieties.

another word for honey factory – 2 views

Coordination of Nectar Gathering and ReceivingSurely that would be "hive"?

will bluebirds splash in a birdbath with bees around- 1 view

We picture the bees in the role of swimming pool lifeguards. "Hey,you bluebirds! No splashing! And no running either!"

ezra pound bees – 1 view

The catchphrase of fictional scientist Ezra Banner mutated after being stung by gamma-irradiated bees. Source of a rather popular superhero franchise after some major editing.

who is the poetastry – 1 view

That should be "Who is the poetaster?" And that would be the inferior poet writing the indifferent verse called poetastry, as we self-deprecatingly tag our own offerings in this blog, generally apicultural parodies of better works.

CENSORED – 2 views

After four years of surprise at the irrelevant phrases that can lead search engines to our bee blog we found our first one that is not quite obscene but definitely vulgar. We shall not share the phrase with our readers other than to say that we may have to avoid future use of the Latin preposition for with.

"fixed at the corners" – 1 view

And still broken in the middle? Not very funny but so general a phrase provides no clue as to the nature of the desired answer. The quotation marks suggest that a specific ill-recalled article was being sought but why would that phrase stick in memory?

improvised apparatus stethoscope – 1 view

We’ve got nothing.

And so ends this installment of pathetic japes. May next year provide better entertainment.

Sad Tenth Doctor in the rainAs described in a previous post we were part of a crew led by Dr. Milbrath that removed two colonies from a soon-to-be-demolished house so they could become a pair of teaching hives at Matthaei Botanical Gardens.

We anticipated a presentation about the cut-out at the next meeting of Ann Arbor Backyard Beekeepers, when we could learn the details of the aftermath and report here, but the presentation had to be postponed. And again the next month. And the next. So, still waiting, we are months late in finally posting a follow-up but the sad news is that the triumph of the day did not last.

  • One colony soon became the target of robbing and simply left, returning to their old house.

  • The other became queenless (Injured or killed during cutout?) with laying workers. A paper combine with another smaller hive was attempted.

  • The paper combine did not work and the rescued bees killed the queen. This time the bees were all just dumped on the ground in front of the eight hives there and left to find themselves a home.

Some bees just refuse to be helped. The cut-out itself was still a wonderful experience.


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