STOPPING YELLOW JACKET PREDATION!

This is the time of year when Yellow Jackets are desperate for meat and sweets to store for winter survival!  This is the time of year when they go after beehives in earnest as a primary source for their winter supply!  Two years ago, yellow jackets succeeded in reducing or destroying my strongest hives in as little as 3 weeks!  I had not paid as much attention to my apiary during October as I had earlier in the year, but had been doing battle with yellow jacket predation all year.  I was amazed on November 1st when I went out to evaluate my hives for winter stores, and winterize them, only to find that, not only were they lighter weight than they were just 3 weeks prior, but my second strongest hive which had 3 full deep Langstroth boxes of bees just 3 weeks prior, was acting like it was being robbed!  I necked down the entrance and tried to apply measures against robbing, but it didn’t seem to help!  After a day or so, I went out at night to inspect and found the hive totally empty.  The bees I had seen during the day (along with yellowjackets) were not from that hive, but ALL ROBBING!  HOLY CRAP!  What happened?  The next morning I went out and opened my strongest hive to inspect, and found that the queen and less than a frame of bees were balled up in the upper super!  SERIOUSLY, HOLY CRAP!  This hive was 4 deep boxes FULL OF BEES 3 to 4 weeks prior!

As I sat there scratching my head in total amazement, wondering if I had experienced CCD, or if someone had used pesticides near me, I noticed a steady stream of YELLOW JACKETS going in and out of all of my hives without being checked at the door by guards!  At first glance, it didn’t register that this could be the problem, since I had been doing battle more or less all year with yellow jackets… However this steady stream was pretty significant!  I’m aware of what they call the dripping faucet problem, where someone actually captured the drips from a dripping faucet and found that it added up to thousands of gallons over a month!  I did noticed that due to the colder temperature, the bees were absent from the entrances as guards, and the yellow jackets had carte-blanche access to the hives in the morning, and again the evenings when it was too cold for bees.  As I sat there and observed, I noticed yellow jacket after yellow jacket leaving the hives with either bellies full of honey, or bee parts!  In addition to the two strong hives, I had 2 or 3 smaller hives that I had been nursing all summer, which I had necked down their entrances to aid against robbing.  These smaller colonies were actually now stronger than what remained of my strongest hive!  I had believed that the strong hives were strong enough to fend off the yellow jackets without having to neck them down, (and they did for most of the summer), so they were open to at least half of the bottom board.

Once I realized that the yellow jackets were most likely the cause of this tragedy, I conversed with my brother about it, and began looking for ways to seriously step up my game with killing yellow jackets!  I had already made a zapper grid that I placed over a bucket and learned that if I sprinkled powdered sugar in the bucket and waited until there was 50 or a hundred wasps inside, and then turned on the zapper, I could kill them in large numbers, but while this helped, they just kept coming all summer long!  I wanted now to find a way to go after the yellow jacket nests themselves!  I even tried to catch and tag them with strips of toilet paper or thread to observe where they were going but was not successful in finding their dens!  In talking with my brother who had lived in Tennessee for many years, he informed me of two poisons that they used back there for ants and cockroaches, which worked by feeding them a slow acting poison, which they carry back to their nests and feed to the babies and the queen.  These were very effective at eliminating both cockroaches and ants!

So I purchased both of these poisons, TERRO ANT KILLER, and HOTSHOT ROACH KILLER from my local Lowes, and proceeded to begin experimenting with baiting yellow jackets.  I had tried several of the hanging yellow jacket traps over the years with minimal success.  It is of course counter intuitive to place poisons on or near beehives, but I’d already lost the war so I was out to find a way to win for the future!  To my pleasant surprise, the yellow jackets loved the Terro straight out of the bottle, and dripping it on top of the hives that were under attack, soon proved to be very effective!  I found that the bees were not attracted to the Terro, but the yellow jackets were!  I compared the labels of Terro and Hotshot, and behold, they were both using a borax based formula (at that time)!  Hotshot is a powder so I mixed Hotshot with powdered sugar and sprinkled it on top of hives as well.  The bees pretty much left that alone as well.  I think I only killed 3 bees in all of the hours that I observed, to prevent them from carrying any back into the hives.  Within 2 days, the yellow jackets were pretty much gone and it became hard to find any!  On the 3rd day a major storm came in and dropped temperatures to sub freezing for over a week, getting all the way down to zero!  After it warmed back up, I still could not find any yellow jackets.  Now scientifically, one should not draw any serious conclusions from this experience.  It simply is not enough data to say that the baiting worked, or if the cold snap had anything to do with it.  So I waited patiently for next spring, but began a campaign of talking to every local beekeeper I could find, and trying to learn if they were having similar problems with yellow jackets.  The answer was not only yes, but most all I talked to had lost there hives entirely prior to winter!

Talking with Utah State entomologists, as well as both the Weber County Bee Inspector and the Davis County Bee inspectors, the consensus was that yellow jackets are opportunists and not the primary cause of failure for beehives!  They felt that probably Varoa mites were probably the principle reason for the decline and yellow jackets were just being opportunists.  Yes I had Varoa, and my counts were officially measured by the state entomologist in late August.  So I did not voice any disagreement with these experts, at that time, but my understanding is that much of the devastation to colonies from mites takes place in early winter.  My bees had had mites most of the summer in spite of my attempts with both powdered sugar treatments and Apistan, but had not yet diminished significantly.  However my observations were that yellow jackets may have been opportunistic earlier on, by going after some bees on the ground (due to the mites and some deformed wing syndrome), but at some point they began just charging the gates and plowing through guards to enter hives and then exit with all the bounty!  This extreme aggressive behavior resulted in full on attack with success on my hives!  Eventually the guards were gone, the colder temperatures caused all bees to have to go inside and ball up during morning and evening hours when it was colder, but the yellow jackets kept on flying, applying their carnage nearly down to freezing outside!  This observation made it evident that certainly during the fall months when temperatures drop, our bees are most vulnerable to yellow jacket predation!  I believe that the act of entering hives with such aggression is a learned behavior which was a natural progression after finding bees on the ground, which was because of the Varoa.  I also learned from others who have battled yellow jackets that in the spring, basically every yellow jacket is a queen seeking to start a nest, so everyone that you kill is a potential entire colony of yellow jackets!

So I’ve been studying yellow jackets and observing behaviors now for 2 years.  This year I was particularly vigilant at killing and baiting yellow jackets at first sign in the spring, and quickly succeeded in reducing them to pretty much no observed yellow jackets by end of March.  I learned that if you take a small pump sprayer and fill it with strong soapy water (Dawn Dish Soap seams to work best), it kills pretty much all soft-bodied insects nearly as fast as the poison insect sprays!  Did everybody read that?  READ IT AGAIN!  Heavy soapy Dawn Dish water kills soft insects FAST!  Hey I give these sprayers to my grand kids and have zero concern for toxic sprays!

Using my sprayer, I simply spend about 15 to 30 minutes a day when possible, during attack periods, shooting yellow jackets when they slow down while looking for bees, and it kills them in seconds!  When they find my apiary and begin going after bees on the ground, this is my entertainment.  Who needs a video game?  This is real life carnage and revenge that is challenging!  I’m about as accurate as one can get with a pump sprayer!  And when they get really out of hand, I go for the baiting.

FINALLY SUCCESS!  This year my bees were strong as ever!  I actually extracted 5 gallons each from two strong hives, and literally had zero yellow jackets most of the summer.  They have been ramping up since September, and I’m now baiting again prior to winter.  What about the mites?  OAV!  I made an Oxalid Acid vaporizer and used it last December and as near as I could tell, it got 100%  I did not see a single mite this year until end of August (well after extracting honey).  They may have been there a bit sooner, but not until after I had already extracted, and my hives have pretty much replaced what I took prior to this coming winter!  The mites have come on strong through September and I chose to treat my hives with a light treatment of OAV to minimize damage until they go broodless in December.  Then I will treat them again.

In Summary:  After observing yellow jackets critically for two years, after deciding that they can become primary predators through learned behavior, and not just opportunistic predators on honeybees, I’ve observed a pattern of opportunistic behavior in yellow jackets in the beginning, with just milling around looking for bees on the ground, followed by a more aggressive attack behavior directly entering hives.  After taking on sick bees from the ground and learning of their abundant source (undoubtedly due to Varoa), yellow jackets soon began going after the bees and honey in the hives themselves!  Once they began this more aggressive behavior, they eventually take out any guards that existed, and then pretty much have carte-blanche access to both honey and bees!  I observed this spring that the older, bigger yellow jackets that did show up in the spring, went right for the more aggressive attack directly on the hives even after Varoa had been eliminated and there were no bees on the ground, because they already learned this behavior the year before.  I perceived this as a huge issue since they would teach any offspring this behavior from the beginning!  I vigilantly killed every single yellow jacket found in those early weeks this year, before they could create there own colonies, and pretty much did not see any before mid August!  Once they began to show up again, they did not go directly to the advanced behavior of directly attacking the hives themselves but have taken more than a month to get to this behavior (while I was killing roughly 15 to 20 a day with my Binford 1.5P10 soapy water blaster)!  I’m now baiting again…  Its time to go out and check now the 3rd day after starting to bait.

I hope that anyone reading this can find similar success!  Sincerely, Ren Holmes (admin@warmbees.com)

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IMPROVED WARMBEES.COM WEBSITE!

I am pleased to announce my totally new redesigned WARMBEES.COM website, which has been redesigned to be an authoritative website for Over-wintering success!  Many of you have provided valuable feedback, and permission to use your comments in support of Warmbees In-Hive Warmers.  I thank you for your support and interest in the success of Warmbees In-Hive Warmers.   The new website format should prove to be very helpful in better understanding the physics and dynamics behind successful winter beekeeping.  Because Warmbees In-Hive Warmers are being so successful, we are seeing more and more smaller colonies surviving long winters into late spring, which has provided opportunities to observe and interact with colonies that otherwise would have died.  One thing that quickly came to light, is that critically small colonies have to contend with other factors beyond just temperature, to survive.  I am very pleased to announce that research and study into these factors, and what constitutes the minimum quantity of bees required to thrive, has lead to the observation and discovery that bees apply additional behaviors to control humidity, when they reside in a space hopelessly too large and dry for their small numbers to maintain high enough humidity, to incubate and hatch eggs.  This single factor is the largest determining condition beyond temperature control, which dictates the minimum quantity of bees needed to thrive in spring! This is a MUST READ!  With Warmbees In-Hive Warmers, many of you have begun to experience the excitement of getting small colonies through the winter months, only to watch the critically small colonies continue to dwindle and fail to thrive in the spring.  I have coined a new name for this condition, which I call “HYPOHUMIDITY SYNDROME in MASS-CRITICAL COLONIES”.  This new information, and many ideas and methods to turn this condition around and get them to thrive, is now on the new Knowledgebase page on Warmbees.com.  I have now successfully recovered many small colonies, and expect that many of you may pioneer other methods that will drastically change this outcome and drive our success rates to nearly perfect numbers.  My smallest success is a softball size colony thus far.  The coldest reported temperature, thus far over several days, for a successful overwinter, is minus -25° F in Kenai Alaska.  I am interested in setting a record.  I expect a standard hive of a 2 deep Langstroth full of bees with 2” foam snugly placed on all sides, top, and bottom, should successfully overwinter with a Warmbees In-Hive Warmer II, with an add-on element board, to minus -60° F.  To the first party that documents a successful overwinter with logs and pictures, to minus -50° or lower, using a Warmbees In-Hive Warmer II with Add-on, I will give them a free Warmbees In-Hive Warmer II with Add-on. I invite you to check out the new Warmbees.com, and further improve your success rates in beekeeping!  I also encourage you to please feedback your stories of both successes and failures, and any other observations that you may make surrounding overwintering, and particularly with Warmbees In-Hive Warmers.  This information is very valuable to this growing community and helps us tweak future designs and information to better withstand the elements, and provide the most robust and reliable products.  The new information available now, will illuminate many of our practices and procedures that can help, or hurt your hives chances for survival.  Don’t wait till spring to dive into the knowledgebase, by then it may be too late to hedge your bets!  The Knowledgebase section on the physics of heat loss from beehives, I believe, is some of the most valuable information that you can use RIGHT NOW, while preparing for the winter months!!!   Many of you have already learned that Warmbees In-Hive Warmers are the most valuable when placed in full strength hives.  Most full strength colonies are not only stronger in the spring, which equates to more honey gathered, but consume as much as 50% of the honey that they otherwise would have required, when they have a Warmbees In-Hive Warmer installed!!!  For those with the new In-Hive Warmer II, be sure and try using the B.A.W.B feature by moving the B.A.W.B jumper to the upper pins 1 and 2.  This keeps the warmer on at a very mild 10 % always, which removes that much burden from the bees to generate winter heat.  This literally will often pay for the In-Hive Warmer at least once in honey savings (just 17lb@$5=1 warmer), in addition to not having to replace a dead-out, while still allowing for near dormant temperatures!  Thanks and best of luck on the coming winter of beekeeping!  Ren (admin@warmbees.com)

Are you new to WARMBEES?  Are you skeptical?  RESULTS!

It’s Getting Springy Out There! YEAH!

Above pic shows the typical observations of a hive with Warmbees In-Hive Warmers.  Armchair critics can say and believe anything they wish, but the bees truly speak with their actions!  You can’t tell me that they would rather do without the Warmbees In-Hive Warmer!  All of my hives have the clusters perfectly centered around the Warmbees In-Hive Warmers, regardless of where in the box I place them!  I may be biased, but apparently so are the bees!  If the bees have an opinion, it seems fairly obvious…

As Spring is approaching, Warmbees In-Hive Warmer customers are already seeing and reporting awesome results!  Some comments are reprinted here with permission:

Ruth in Virginia recently said Feb 12, 2016:  “I am really loving the heater that I bought from you in November!  If you remember, it went into 2 different nucs in the middle of a line of 4 nucs.  There was one other nuc on either side of the 2 heated nucs.  In January, we had some really cold weather that killed/chilled the unheated nuc on the far left.  This past week has been another cold spell and the unheated nuc on the far right is now sitting inside my house trying not to die.  Wished I had bought a second heater from you so I wouldn’t have had to go to extreme measures to keep this one alive.  The 2 nucs that have the heater are moving about freely on the comb closest to the heat board.” – Purchased 1 Warmer with Add-on, placing main warmer in 1 NUC, with Add-on board in second NUC.  (Not how it was designed to be used, but creative)

Lee in Montana recently said Mar 8, 2016:  “I thought I would let you know that my bees did very well this winter. I opened up two of my four colonies yesterday afternoon and they were absolutely thriving! They used less than half of their stores, had brood on the way and both were full of bees in both the upper and lower boxes. The other two colonies appeared equally well off; I haven’t had the chance to open them yet… Though the winter was mild here and I had made a fairly good insulation system, I think your Warm Bees heaters kept my bees in excellent shape. I installed min/max thermometers in my hives and every time I checked them this winter they were above 53 degrees. Outside temperatures were as low as -15 this winter; it wasn’t the -40 that we often get, but it was quite cold enough for bees. This system would probably have worked if we had gotten a colder winter.   Thanks again for making and marketing an excellent product!”

My own testing with larger colonies this winter, is producing the same expected results as previous years, with strong colonies early this spring, and evidence that they are coming through, having consumed significantly less honey stores than normal!  My 2 NUC’s are doing fair, with queens laying eggs, but the few bees seem to be failing to feed and nurture, just as observed last year.  For informational purposes, both NUCs were only about 2 to 3 frames of bees through the winter, and have reduced to currently around 50 bees or less, which is well beyond the worst case scenarios that are normally survivable.  I am testing best and worst case scenarios for the purpose of understanding the limits and claims of Warmbees In-Hive Warmers.  I am currently medicating as a precaution against disease, and will grab hatching brood from my stronger hives next week, to get some young nurse bees added to support both queen’s efforts to grow their tiny colonies.  All hives were treated for Varoa in December, and appear Varoa free thus far this spring.

My own results with Warmbees In-Hive Warmers this winter, have been a resounding success, with live bees in the tiny NUCs, and thriving strong hives that already have capped brood as of today Mar 10, 2016.  It is becoming apparent to me, however, that worst-case-scenario colony survival, requires additional measures such as, the addition of some bees early in the spring, to nurse and nurture eggs, or perhaps active humidity measures, to keep the colony from failing .  Even with attention from me, ensuring that they have honey, pollen, and brooding temperature, it is not enough.  My thought is that it is most probably related to humidity.  One of my NUCs has had a bottle with syrup placed inside, which would add humidity, however this NUC is in a full size box, with an empty box on top to cover the bottle.  Perhaps that is too much space for the tiny amount of syrup that these few bees are taking and placing in comb, to significantly control the humidity of the egg space.  The second NUC is in a small half Langstroth – 5 frame – Full Deep NUC box, in which I have placed frames of honey to ensure they don’t run out again.  I had not left enough honey in this NUC to make the whole winter.  They ran out near the first of February, and I observed them flying out of desperation, on a cold day, resulting in losing more than half of the original 2 frames of bees.  If I lose this one, it will have been my own fault.  Just as last years critical-experiment-colonies failed at first, to produce new bees, which resulted in the death of the smallest… this years smallest NUCs are nearly identical to this point.  Last year the queen in the smallest colony died only a week before my new packages came when I could add bees.  There were only 3 or 4 bees left at that time.  The second softball size colony, through last winter, was down to about 20 bees when I caged the queen and added about 300 bees.  This colony then recovered and is now one of this years strong colonies.

Now that I write this, my observations today make a bit more sense.  I’ve been watching closely this past week for eggs in my stronger mixed Carnie/Italian, success story hive, from last winter.  I noticed that the bees on the best looking frames were, as if glued, to the center area and would not move so that I could look for eggs.  Today was no exception to this strong-willed behavior of remaining tightly formed to the center area where you would expect eggs.  But upon moving some, there they were, full of royal jelly and thriving on the center of 3 frames!  Woot Woot!  but I also noticed that the syrup from the bottle had been deposited on the entire periphery of the brood regions on all 3 frames!  This is undoubtedly the answer to my quandry above, staring me blatantly in the face!  Without enough bees to, not only store liquid syrup in a significant pattern surrounding a brood chamber, but then also hunkering down in a live shield on top of both the eggs, and the  moist syrup in the area peripheral to the eggs, there is probably not enough moisture for the proper hatching and development of the larvae, even if Warmbees In-Hive Warmers are ensuring a safe brooding temperature!  And a new hypothesis is born, which explains the observed critical mass apparently required for the colony to begin to thrive in early spring.  Maybe there is still time to develop a moisture solution to help the remaining tiny clusters… And just like that, a new inventive method to complete the winter survival solution is born.  While writing the above sentence, the idea came to me to manually fill the cells surrounding the egg patches in both NUCs with syrup, and then apply a modified cage over the area that mostly seals the patch from air and convection, to raise the humidity in the area.  I’ll leave a door on the end facing the front vent, for bees to come and go as needed, but otherwise have only small pin holes in the other sides for minimal air transfer.  I guess I know what I will be doing tomorrow…

Mid February is when I usually will turn up the temps in my warmers to the high range in order to promote early growth and strength for Spring nectar season.  In addition to turning up the temps in February, I make sure there is syrup given to the colonies to help stimulate comb and laying, even if they still have capped honey.  Now approaching mid March, my strong hives are laying with capped brood.  First hatch should be this next week.  I’m going to steal a couple of frames after about half hatch, shake them off, and then place them in my NUCs to add fresh hatching bees that won’t be a threat to the queens. Both NUCs need the boost in nurse bees.  If I succeed, I will have a new record for smallest colony to survive with Warmbees In-Hive Warmers at around a baseball size colony in Novermber!  Wish me luck!

Side note:  Those who are against warming hives by artificial means – continually site that bees fly on days too cold to fly and die!  I am consistently finding that this is not necessarily the case.  I have seen this in colonies that run out of honey, such as my NUC above, but I and many customers are having colonies consistently come through winter without excessive flying on cold days!  I have inadvertently caused this by making abrupt temperature changes on a cold day, but by and large, hives with Warmbees In-Hive Warmers are not exhibiting this behavior under normal circumstances.

May SPRING find you still keeping bees and living the DREAM!  Ren

BAD BLOGGER, BAD BAD BLOGGER

Obviously I’m a lousy blogger.  No updates all summer, or fall for that matter!

I recently received an email from a friend in Indiana that is distressing.  He has had much less time to keep bees due to his job, but has had several set-backs in beekeeping and is getting discouraged.  This causes me to reflect on my own struggles this year, and the much research that I have done with regard to beekeeping, and its many challenges, and my desire to continue improving Warmbees In-Hive Warmers, and providing them as a product.

First, I will update with the outcomes of last winters tiny colonies.  The smallest colony did not make it past the 2nd week in April.  In spite of the queen laying eggs, and hanging in there, the workers never nursed them, and so there were no new bees to continue.  This actually seemed to be the similar challenge for my second slightly bigger colony, however I received my 2 new packages in about the 3rd week in April, which allowed me to take a few hundred bees and combine them with the small remaining colony.  This was the shot in the arm needed, and they began nursing the eggs and the little colony took off and thrived.  This second colony is now nearly a deep and 1/2 now this winter!  I’m not sure what to fully take away from last year.  Scientifically, the sample is simply too small to really be of any real significance, but it was a success in the fact that I was able to get two tiny colonies through the winter into the second week of April with Warmbees In-Hive WArmers!  I count both colonies as a success to that end, with the second colony still alive and thriving.

My thoughts go to observing that there is a critical mass element here that suggests that a baseball size colony (approximately 1/2 frame), is simply too small and does not contain enough bees to survive the winter, even if temperature is removed as the reason.  But at the same time, the softball size colony did make it all the way through, but required an injection of bees in April to begin to thrive again.  Without many more samples, I can’t draw any strong conclusions except that it is possible to get critically small colonies through winter, given the right conditions!  I am tempted to say that once bees are older, they really don’t want to revert to nurse bee duties.  If this is the case, then without some occasional brood through the winter, ramping up in the spring, is very difficult.

This year brought more observations and challenges.  With my two new packages, one absolutely thrived and exceeded my expectations and even gave me about a gallon of honey.  The second failed to thrive, probably due to EFB, and in spite of my best efforts never really realized its potential.  I created several queens and NUCs, and successfully mated 5 early on, but later they all seemed to disappear in about a weeks time.  I created additional queens and even succeeded in getting two mated in October, which I was then able to use to get two other colonies queen right before winter.

My brother had purchased a VSH breeder queen and she thrived during this year, and we created some second generation queens from her.  However late in the season, apparently someone in his neighborhood must have sprayed some poison, which came back to his apiary and nearly killed everything off (thousands dead on the ground)!  I attempted to rescue his VSH queen and her offspring by bringing them up to my apiary and in fact nursed them in an inside observation hive, but eventually lost them both.  However during the process, (I’m really saving you the very long story here) I learned that my strongest hive was totally saturated with Varoa mites, and was beginning to decline.  I then researched into Varoa and methods of eradication.  I tried many things like powdered sugar, and even vinegar, but finally settled on Oxalic Vapor.  This worked extremely well!  I was able to kill off the mites in my strong hive, and it entered this winter with a deep and 1/2 box of bees!  Through the research I did, and my own experiences this year, I’m finding and echoing the conclusion, that Varoa are probably responsible for more issues than we may have previously thought.  Actually, it is my opinion that there is a bit of a Trifecta going on that results in very high losses!

I may have mentioned some of my fight with Yellow Jackets here.  At the end of last season, I nearly lost all of my colonies, and I truly believed that it was all due to Yellow Jacket predation.  I spoke with two county agents and our Utah State entomologist about this observation, and they said that Yellow Jackets are opportunists and that there were other main causes.  I tried to keep an open mind, but then absolutely studied and paid attention to everything YELLOW JACKET this year!  I fought major battles this year with Varoa mites, and some EFB, and feel strongly that while these may be primary causes, or perhaps better stated as initiating conditions or impetus, once Yellow Jackets identify the opportunity and “Hives as a Food Source”, they develop their skills and have the disposition to attack with extreme aggression, and then become a force that can totally take out an entire small apiary!  I absolutely believe that there comes a turning point where they are no longer just opportunists, but become the primary threat!  Once the Genie is out of the bottle, you can’t stuff it back in!

The Big Picture then becomes:  Disease, mites, wasps, moths, beetles, and etc. reduce the level of thriving for honeybees in North America, and then the lack of adequate preparation for cold Northern winters, takes them out, resulting in high losses.  The Varoa mites may not have seemed like a terribly significant threat and can be managed, but I believe it is the scale-tipping straw that is changing the balance for a species that has here-to-fore largely thrived in North America.  With increasing percentages of losses throughout the Northern climates, many hobbyists and beekeepers alike, are becoming discouraged, and increasingly un-willing to continue losing investments in beekeeping and equipment.

As a professional trouble shooter and consultant by trade, with an engineering degree in electronics, one of the most challenging scenarios to resolve is where multiple causes appear to act like one large smoking gun.  An enormous amount of effort and expense is often spent looking for the “smoking gun” singular cause, when in fact it is the result of many smaller seemingly insignificant issues that add up to the big problem!  Anyone that has ever used a checkbook understands that 100 tiny checks adds up in a hurry to a big problem!

Applying this analogy to beekeeping trends, and my observations of this year,  the Trifecta becomes more obvious!  Apis Meliffera, which is not indigenous to North America, and which has largely been able to adapt to the colder climates and thrive here, may have been dealt the crushing blow with the introduction of the Varoa Mite.  While the Varoa Mite may not be the big smoking gun, in and of itself, if it introduced a factor of just 10% of an irritant or thorn factor to the honeybee population, causing them to struggle just that much more than normal, across the continental US, and then the Yellow Jackets and other pests and detrimental issues to honeybees gain that same 10%, or more, cumulative increase in their success against honeybees, the scale may have been tipped too far in the negative direction for honeybees to continue to thrive overall, and the decline will be exponential!  I don’t believe that the effect of Varoa is just 10%, nor the gains, at least by the Yellow Jackets, is just 10%.  If not for my huge efforts against disease, Varoa, and Yellow Jackets these past two years, I would have no bees, and would have lost absolutely 100% of every new package I’ve purchased!  Beekeepers who want to take a hands-off approach to beekeeping, take note.  Just my Humble Opinion.  But hey its my blog!

Spring Update

The winter is fading and spring is coming on…  A new update is overdue.  I’ve had several chances to inspect my two remaining colonies, and have verified that I do still have both queens.  My North most small colony is the smallest with very few bees left.  Unfortunately, while I did observe eggs a few weeks back, I still don’t see any capped brood.  This obviously means that without replacements, the bees will die down and fail.  I suspect some residual disease such as perhaps EFB, which I thought I had gotten resolved last fall.  However I did see one bee with deformed wings, which would indicate mite issues.  I am currently treating to see if it is possible to get this tiny colony to successfully brood, before total failure.  If I can observe significant brood in the second hive, I may take some of those bees to help give the North queen a chance at survival.  To have come so far this winter, and then not fully succeed, will be very frustrating.  This all goes to show that while the WARMBEES warmer is a success in reducing loss due to cold temperatures, disease and other issues still must be dealt with for success.  But I have learned from other pets and charges, that warmer temperatures, allow for faster and better recovery from illness.  This is becoming obvious to me to hold true with bees.  Comments from customers of the WARMBEES In-Hive Warmers, are finding that hives with warmers are coming out more healthy than those without.

Winter 2014 – 2015 testing and information

If you’ve visited WARMBEES.COM lately, you’ve had the opportunity to view the videos on the main page.  These are of some hives that turned out to be in critical trouble, due to yellowjacket predation, going into this current winter season.  While this is frustrating to me for having basically all of my hives in jeopardy, it is the worst case scenarios that the WARMBEES IN-HIVE WARMERS will ever face.  So I’m  posting occasional updates so customers and anyone that wants to follow, can see the progression.

My original intentions for this season, were to continue testing, what I call the standard purpose of the WARMBEES IN-HIVE WARMER, which is to assist a marginal – to – weak colony, to survive our Northern climate winters.  What I consider to be marginal, is 3 to 5 frames of bees.  We have proven in previous years that colonies of this size, are easily preserved using the warmers.  That being said, my goal this year was to attempt to learn what the limitations really are for the WARMBEES IN-HIVE WARMER design.  However, as I identify what I consider to be important feature changes, and modify the design to incorporate them, it obviously changes what the limitations might be.  So I actually have several versions of the warmers in play, which muddies the water just a smidge.  Nevertheless, I purposely left my 4 remaining hives out in the middle of my small apiary, un-protected, separated from each other, and with no wind break or insulation.

I installed the WARMBEES IN-HIVE WARMERS into 3 of my weaker hives early in October.  When I returned from a wonderful Halloween vacation to Disneyland, I went out to install warmers in my two strongest hives.  My main objective for this winter’s testing, was to measure the consumption of honey in strong hives, with WARMBEES IN-HIVE WARMERS installed.  However, when I opened the strong hives to install the warmers, I quickly learned that my second strongest hive (2 full deeps of bees in mid September), was completely empty of bees, and was being robbed of the box and a half of honey that it had.  Further, I discovered that my strongest hive (3 full boxes of bees in mid September), was reduced to a baseball size cluster, barely hanging on in the upper most corner of the top super.  It was in the mid 30’s that day, so I took the top super off and set it aside without disturbing further, and then broke down the 3 boxes beneath it, leaving a single deep with several frames of honey and pollen.  I then placed a warmer in the lower box, directly beneath the cluster in the super that I placed back on top.  This allowed the heat to rise from beneath and benefit the small baseball sized cluster that remained.  I did see the queen, so this cluster was still viable!

The first video on the WARMBEES.COM home page, is of this small cluster in the top super.  The 4th video down on the home page, is this same small colony 1 week later.  The cluster had actually moved down from the top super, to the warmer, and took up residence between the same two frames that the warmer occupied!  This is significant to me because, while we have seen bees move their clusters to the WARMBEES IN-HIVE WARMERS before, this is the first time, and with the smallest colony, that a colony, particularly this small, has actually moved DOWN from one box to a lower one, to take up residence directly above the warmer!  This move happened during a 2 day cold snap where temperatures went into the lower teens!

The 5th video on the WARMBEES.COM HOME page shows the same colony after surviving a night at 9 deg (F) with wind gusting to 60 mph!  The windchill registered at MINUS -15!  And they are still alive!  The remainder of that week took overnight temperatures clear down to zero!  When I checked hives in that 5th video, they were still fine and all bees were alive, however when I checked them after that week-long cold snap, I found that bees, just one frame away from the warmer, in the second hive, had died or were in the process, so to me this was a clear demonstration of the limits of the current WARMBEES IN-HIVE WARMER design.  Clearly we want bees to survive more than one frame away from the warmer during critical temperatures, and we need them to survive even harsher climates.  However remaining un-insulated and protected was no longer prudent for testing reasons.  So I rearranged a bit and insulated to preserve the remaining bees as long as possible, and give them a fighting chance at some recovery.  I will also not open and inspect quite as aggressively at temperatures below freezing.  Significant to note, is that the third hive in the videos which had only a handful of bees, still had 6 live bees after the week long single to no digit temperatures!  However with no queen, it didn’t make any sense to continue that hive as a test.  A fourth hive that is not in the videos is actually critical as well, but has about 1 frame of bees or a softball size cluster, and the warmer that I have in that hive, is the oldest version of warmer I have in the yard.  They have taken up residence 1 frame away from the warmer, which could be that it is running hotter than the others.  So as of 2 days ago, I am now down to 3 hives still in testing.  All are critical but still alive.  I’ll have to wait till a warm day to inspect for queens and any brood.

I am interested in any feedback that current customers, with WARMBEES IN-HIVE WARMERS in place, might have.  Specifically, any information about the size and health of your hives going into this winter season, the type and amount of any insulation you may have in place, and the estimates or actual weights that you may have for your hives honey stores.  I don’t expect any of you to open and inspect hives in cold temperatures, but indication of how they might be doing is also appreciated.  Some beeks will put their ear to an entrance and then tap or knock on the hive and listen for the buzzzz.  Some use stethoscopes for this proecdure.  I suggest that you don’t need an actual stethoscope to hear the buz.  Simply take a 1/4″ or larger piece of hose or tubing and place one end up to an entrance, and the other end up to your ear.  Tap or knock on the hive, and if they are alive, you will hear them increase their buzz for you.  You may even be able to tell a bit about strength of the colony by how loud the collective bees can buzz.  Finally, I am very interested in how cold it has gotten in your areas with these hives.  Success is good to hear.  I am also interested in failure information, but I don’t promise to be as excited.  Thanks for reading!  But hey its a blog… and the goal is noble, and positive outcomes should excite all who are interested!  Ren

WARMBEES IN-HIVE WARMER UPDATE

One of my main objectives this winter, is to find out what the limits are with the current WARMBEES In-Hive Warmer design.  I have now learned this threshold.  My excitement this past week (not to be confused with hubris, as it was my intention to learn these limits), was finally tempered after checking in with the critical colonies after nearly a week in single digit temperatures!  Yesterday as I checked the critical hives, I found that bees which were not between the frames where the warmers reside, parished!  So the very cold temperatures were able to overpower the periphery of the colonies!  So I finally went ahead and insulated the hives with 1″ styrofoam  (R5) on all sides.  I do want to continue my testing and rescue these colonies if possible.  I won’t know, however until warmer weather, weather the queens have survived or not.  It is important to note, for those following this blog, that as the inventor and developer of this product, I must know its limits and what it is capable of, to properly showcase and represent the product to the public.  My new design coming out, perhaps, next month, still fits the Warre and Topbar designs as well as the Langstroth, however does away with the swiveling elements and the complexity of construction and vulnerability of those flexible cables.  This should help lower cost and production time.  However this new design also allows for add-on elements, which will allow us to increase the size of the warm zone, the overall amount of heat, as well as lower the critical threshold, for the coldest climates like Alaska.

With the 4 colonies that I have been working with this winter, I now have 3 that are still alive with tiny clusters.  I opt’d not to insulate the 4th hive, since there were only 5 live bees left, that I could find.  But there were 5 live bees after a week in single digits!  I also added some small candy bricks for feed directly above these tiny clusters.  I had ensured there was honey frames and polen available to them, however I’ve learned in previous winters, that small colonies cannot move around much within the boxes.  With colonies this tiny, it is virtually impossible to move away from the warm zone created by the warmers.  So providing feed directly near the clusters is imperative.  Larger colonies around 3 frames of bees, will obviously fare better and have more lattitude to move around.  We have already succeeded with 3 frame nucs in the past.  So learning the threshold of the current model was very important to me, and the losses this week would have been prevented with some insulation and earlier feeding, as previously recommended.

It is also important that followers of this blog not only understand these facts, but also that I have made some subtle changes to the design, over this past year, as we explore the parameters that affect the bees and what we can do to maximize survival, and other positive effects, without increasing any possible negative things!  For example, the first model of WARMBEES In-Hive Warmers already incorporated a very tight controller that does not cycle.  But it did not turn off 100%, when not calling for heat, nor keep the elements from going above temperatures that the bees could handle.  I can make arguments for both of these parameters to go both ways and there of trade-offs, but for now I currently feel that it was best to adopt this current configuration.  I may change my mind back on these and other parameters, depending on further testing, depending on what we determine to be best for the bees.  So as you can see that there are many parameters and trade-offs to consider and test, and that this is about what is best for the bees and the beekeepers, but that we are still studying and learning.  We are proving that we can effectively warm and significantly impact winter survival in a positive way, but must endeavor to now understand all of the ramifications and develop the best products or features to allow for the various needs across the industry.  First and foremost survival – (Apply gentle heat only as needed to maintain dormant temperatures).  Applying too much heat angers the bees and they will sting the heat source!

Second, by maintaining a warmer range in the 70’s or 80;s (F), we can actually promote laying and brooding.  This can be a boost to a weak hive in the fall and in the spring.  Promoting brood rearing in February and March, can ramp up bee counts earlier, and empower a hive to hit the nectar flows in force, which is WIN:WIN.  However until the nectar flows begin, you may need to artificially feed the extra bees to support the build up, or they could starve.  It goes without saying that heat, which is provided by the WARMBEES In-Hive Warmers, is heat that doesn’t require calories consumed and burned, to produce that heat, so less honey is needed or consumed – again WIN:WIN.  However a dormant period is needed by bees for proper cycle and health.  The lifespan of honeybees is significantly increased by the dormant period, which is what makes it possible to survive the extended winter months without brood rearing.  Warming a cluster above dormant temps, but below brooding temperatures, will diminish the extended lifespan without replacing the bees that will now die prior to the spring buildup and flows – which means certain death to the colony, although well meaning!  Brood breaks are a positive way to reduce Varoa mites!  However warming of hives also probably aids the Varoa mites, so more study needs to be conducted to look at what the WARMBEES In-Hive Warmers are doing to the Varoa mite populations!  Standard measures for mite control and disease control must be taken independent of warming.

The BIG OBVIOUS, however, is that a dead colony leaves no more options or opportunities to work out other problems or issues!  We can work to resolve disease processes, mite problems, and lack of honey stores… or work with genetics to work on all of these things, until the dreaded deadout!  Many beekeepers argue that if a hive doesn’t make it, then it had poor genetics anyway.  I personally don’t agree!  Good genetics can meet with a bad set of events like a bad year for nectar flows or yellowjackets, followed by an extreme winter, which would stress or take out any “NORMAL” strain, if we can even use the term “NORMAL”.

Sorry for long post, just throwing out current issues and thoughts regarding artificially warming hives.  From the purest stance, we are all tired of lost investments, both from a monetary perspective and an emotional or one of time and passion!  The WARMBEES In-Hive Warmer gives us another tool to combat the one big thing that we can’t control – the WEATHER!  Now at least we have some more options to extend our investments and continue our passion.  Sincerely Ren Holmes – Inventor – WARMBEES In-Hive Warmer.