Blackclad hives in the snowThree months without blogging! And still with a backlog of drafts from the Michigan Beekeepers Association Spring Conference last March. We have been neglecting our readership almost as much as we have been neglecting our bees. By now we have had our first two snowfalls and while poor, empty Clarissa is by the barn, flipped roofless onto her stand lest mice occupy her before we can once again fill her with bees, the occupied hives are in a row, dressed in their winter black. We also have several one-pound bags of silica gel in their unoccupied halves to absorb moisture. They should work as well as the wool we had been using and be reusable next season after a spell in the oven. Sadly this is nearly all the winter care we have provided this season.

Master beekeeper Rusty Burlew has great overwintering success and attributes it to always doing what the bees need without delay or excuse. By contrast, we, slackers, in many of our blog posts lament trying to find a suitable window to tend to our few hives, when weather, our paying jobs, and other commitments combine to allow sufficient bee time. This year we did not even apply the late season oxalic drip although we are convinced it has been the largest factor in what overwintering success we have had. Although the mite loads have been low, almost nonexistent, all season they could still climb rapidly in late fall. Rather than sugar roll to check we hastily applied some formic acid pads while weather was still in the effective temperature range.

And for even more fretting, a late peek into the hives revealed that Beatrix and Frankie had, in what seemed to us a very sudden outbreak, small hive beetles. Fortunately the bees seemed to be keeping them adequately confined. Without time to make the boric acid bait for the traps we used six years ago, we hastily added along side the silica gel bags some strips of Swiffer pad to tangle-trap the tiny beetles.

Our winter fretting this season will be laden with guilt.


So last Tuesday we discovered small hive beetles in Annabelle. After some high intensity fretting, on Thursday we made a trap from a thin DVD jewel case by using a Dremel tool with abrasive disk to remove the clear tabs that hold the case snapped shut, thus providing two entrances big enough for the little pests but too small for the bees. We used the first bait recipe we found: 1/4 cup soy flour, 2 tablespoons of boric acid, 3 tablespoons of peanut oil, and 1/8 of cup of water.

The hardest part was finding boric acid. We ancients remember it being available in pharmacies for eyewash but those days are as long gone as rotary phones, whipping cream without carrageenan, and good manners among the young*. We had to get Roach Prufe at the hardware store. We had some misgivings that we were putting insecticide inside a hive full of bees but that particular product is overwhelmingly just boric acid and the rest inactive ingredients.

Applying some bait to the interior of the trap, we taped it shut to prevent accidental opening, and placed it, clear side down, in Annabelle’s feeding chamber close to and with an opening aimed at the follower board. The beetles could thus make it into the trap without harassment by the bees. We later made a second trap which we placed on top of the top-bars in front of the follower board, where we had previously seen others of the invaders diving for cover.

After this we took a look at Beatrix and found that she too was being visited by the beetles although there were only a few seen. We debated moving the second trap to her or making more traps but decided to wait until we could judge their efficacy in Annabelle.

Checking the next morning that efficacy seemed depressingly little as the beetle count seemed unaffected. Then life kept us from visiting the hives until today. Removing Annabelle’s roof and pulling back the cloth we saw a few beetle corpses on top of the top-bars. Opening up the feeding chamber we saw a mere half dozen beetles (which we crushed) corraled under the baggie of syrup and none crawling out from under the follower. Perhaps we had simply not given the traps adequate time? Thus encouraged we moved the second trap to Beatrix’s feeding chamber and observed that her baggie was quite flat. She seems to consume syrup much faster than Annabelle yet build comb somewhat less rapidly. We have no idea what that may mean other than that each colony is different and we should make more syrup.

* Actually we do know many well-mannered young people but we could not resist making such a stereotypical old geezer complaint.

Back from breakfast out and not wearing our bee jackets we decided to give Annabelle’s unoccupied area a quick peek before starting our day. The chamber looked largely unoccupied and the syrup baggie unchanged in volume.

But there seemed a little movement under the follower board. As we watched some small hive beetles crawled out and back under, exploring and being repulsed by the light. We started crushing them with the ends of the top-bars we had removed. The thumping caused some bees to investigate and they promptly began chasing the beetles.

The bad news is that we saw about a score of beetles, a disturbing number. The good news (besides our killing that score of beetles) is that the bees are actively going after them. The girls can not really do much damage to the little armored fiends but it may suffice to keep them contained. We did see one bee manage to pick up a beetle and carry it off away from the hive. Soon we shall have to suit up and check the comb for damage.

With the lack of rain (and hence scarcity of nectar) we have been feeding the bees a little. Mid-month they each got under a pint of syrup. Those baggies have been empty and quite flat for a while so this morning we traipsed out with two fresh baggies of a pint and a half each.

Opening Beatrix’s unoccupied area we saw just a few sleepy bees wandering about. The baggie exchange itself and closing up went smoothly. The only problem arose from having placed the new baggies on a flat scrap of wood while we removed the plywood roof. The scrap was the ‘Live Bees’ label from the package cage. It still has staples in it and the point of one pricked a hole near the bottom edge of Beatrix’s baggie. Placing it in the hive we saw a steady drip that would just make a puddle so after a dash to the house and back for another baggie, we transferred the syrup and carried on without further event.

And so to Annabelle. Removing the roof we spotted a few little black bodies diving away from the light down a slight open crack in front of the follower board. Damnable small hive beetles! Quickly opening up the unoccupied area of the hive we saw a spider, two wax moth, and collected under the old syrup baggie a dozen or so more small hive beetles. There were also a handful of active bees that seemed unhappy about these neighbors. We were not prepared for anything more than a quick exchange of syrup baggies, having come without our basket of tools and bee jackets, so we used the end of a top bar to swiftly crush the non-honeybee life. We then continued with the baggie exchange, closed up, and retreated to the house to decide how to address the small hive beetle problem.

These pests enter a hive, lay eggs in the comb, whereupon the hatched larvae move about eating the honey and pollen, defecating in the comb, ruining the honey, and making an unholy mess. They can devastate things to the point that the bees will abscond to try their luck elsewhere. The best defense is a strong colony, which Annabelle seems to be even though she has been under stress from the hot weather. A strong colony can keep invading beetles corralled (as ours seemed to be doing) and prevent them from laying. Otherwise there are a variety of beetle traps, although most are designed for Langstroth hives.

More to come.