Tag Archives: michael bush

Synopsis of a beekeeping year

I help direct a group of beekeepers at an urban educational farm in SE Portland.  We have several hives going, and made a real effort last season to keep fairly consistent hive logs.  In January I transcribed all the logs and then wrote up a synopsis for the group.  It was very very interesting and educational, so I thought I would post here for any lurking beekeepers to enjoy.  This is a long and technical post, so it may not be for everyone.  For the rest of you, my two home hives were flying last weekend and they feel nice and heavy, and…we have a new batch of baby bunnies.  I will post pics as soon as they get to the super fuzzy adorable stage (next week).

Some Terms and Definitions for the uninitiated:

Nuc.  Shorthand for a 5 frame mini or nucleus hive.  Often purchased in the spring by beekeepers to start a new colony.

TBH.  Top Bar Hive.  A simple type of hive (usually with a horizontal orientation) that has neither frames nor foundation.

Warre Hive.  A vertically oriented type of top bar hive, named for its french inventor Abbe Warre.

AFB.  American Foul Brood, a bacterial disease of honeybee brood. Very serious and easily spread among colonies.

Chalkbrood.  A fungal disease of honeybee brood.  An otherwise healthy colony can usually overcome this.

K wing.  A wing deformity caused by a virus.  Usually indicates a a heavy Varroa mite load.

bee with deformed wing virus

Varroa Mite.  A mite that parasitizes honeybee brood and adults by sucking the bees blood.

Tracheal Mite.  A microscopic parasite that lives in the breathing tubes of honeybees.

Nosema.  A microsporidian that parasitizes the gut of adult honeybees.  Two types:  N. apis causes severe diarrhea.  N. ceranae weakens the foragers causing them to die in the field.  The undernourished colony soon follows.

Walk away split.  A way of making increase:  Take a frame of eggs, two frames of brood and two frames of honey and pollen and put them in a nuc box.  Shake in some nurse bees, double check that you have not also taken the queen, and then walk away.  In four weeks, check to see that you have a new laying queen.

The Zenger Farm apiary is a mix of hive types and we also have sourced bees from caught swarms and locally sourced commercial nucs.  Two small swarms (one queenless) were combined in a Langstroth hive, the other 2 swarms went into a Horizontal Top Bar hive and a Warre.  4 hives were started with the commercial nucs.  1 hive was made up of the tiny remnants of two colonies that was all we had left at the end of last winter.  In 2010, we did no mite treatments of any kind, nor did we feed the bees consistently over winter.  In 2011 we decided to do mite counts, give all the hives powdered sugar treatments (except the TBH), feed grease patties with Honey Bee Healthy in fall and spring, and keep better records.  We also sent bees from one hive to an OSU lab to be tested for tracheal mites and nosema spores.

I grouped the hives by source for easier comparison:  Hives are Langstroth with regular frames and foundation unless otherwise indicated.


The Commercial Nucs

Hive #1   installed 4/12/11  Did not survive.

Had funny moldy smell.  Some bees with Kwing.  Found AFB and burned colony 5/21/11.

Hive #3  installed 4/12/11  Best producer of honey in 2011.

Cranky temperament.  Good brood pattern.  Some bees with K wing.

4/30 /11 second deep added

5/26/11 2 supers added

8/27/11 harvested 2 ½ supers of honey.

Ended up feeding back 5 frames of honey from Hive #6, which the bees transferred to deeps between 9/24 and  10/29 after scoring.  (The danger of a late honey harvest).  Still alive, feeding Drivert as of 1/21/11.

Hive # 6  installed 4/12/11 Only hive with chalkbrood in 2011.  Also tested this hive for tracheal mites and nosema.

Smaller population, spotty brood pattern.  Probably superseded its queen between 4/12 and 5/21.

5/26/11 second deep added

7/12/11 added super.

9/22/11 5 ½ frames filled with honey removed and fed to #3.

Chalkbrood seen 7/20.

Bees from this hive were tested for tracheal mites and nosema.  The bees tested had an average of 1,000,000 nosema spores, but no tracheal mites.

Still alive, feeding drivert as of 1/21/12.

1/31/12 A fair pile of dead bees at entrance.  Other hive entrances seemed clear.

Hive #7  Installed 5/26/11 (replacement nuc for #1)  Did not survive.

Poor brood pattern but could be due to weather, populous.

6/25/11  second deep added

7/12/11  added super

8/27/11 removed one super, no record of amount of honey harvested.

Feisty bees.  9/24/11 Very high Varroa count:  250 mites over 2 days.

1/21/11 Possible dead out, reason yet to be determined.

The survivors of 2010

Hive #4  Combined remains of 2 hives from 2010.

6/15/11  Added second deep

7/12/11  Added super

8/27/11  Harvested full super, should have added a second!

1/3/12  Hive felt very heavy, was very active.  Currently our strongest hive.

1/21/11  Still alive, feeding drivert.



swarm ready for capture...or adoption I should say



The Caught Swarms


Hive #2  The Warre Hive

7/12/11  Installed swarm in single hive box.

8/26/11 box filled with comb.  No honey harvest from a colony this small and late.

1/21/11  Still alive, feeding fondant

Hive #5 

5/5/11 Swarm hived in Nuc

5/10/11 combined with queenless second swarm in hive deep

5/26/11  Added second deep

6/25/11  added super, although second deep was only ½ drawn out.

8/27/11  3 super frames full, 2 others drawn.   Later remarks suggest honey was fed back to the colony, but unclear.

1/21/12  still alive, feeding fondant

Hive #9  The top bar hive with observation window

5/3/11 (this is a rough guess)  Robust swarm installed in empty top bar hive.

5/26/11  Swarm has built out 10 combs.

6/25/11 16 bars built out.  Crosscombed.  Attempted to move entrances from center of hive to end.

2/5/12  Can see the cluster through the window and they are still alive.  Will attempt to feed some fondant from below.

This has been the almost zero management hive, along with the Warre.  No honey harvest the first year.

Laura’s synopsis of 2011:

Nucs pros and cons:

Our success rate with the commercial nucs was 50% as of January 21st.  I would suggest we try to find another source of locally produced nucs for future purchases.  Every purchased nuc showed showed signs of at least one of the following: K-wing virus (indicates heavy mite loads), AFB, Chalkbrood, high nosema spore counts (#6) and very high Varroa mite counts (#7).  That said, our best honey producer was Hive #3, which gave us 2 ½ supers of honey.  Of course, we ended up feeding a half super back and are feeding sugar now.

Honey Harvest:

We waited to harvest honey until late August, due to the weird weather year we had and the slightly delayed honey flow.  However, waiting this long to harvest made it harder for the bees to backfill their deeps with honey in time for winter, which is one of the reasons we think we are light and feeding now.  Our best producer was Hive #3, a commercial nuc.  The second best producer was probably Hive #4, our hive of survivors of 2010.  Third best was probably Hive #7, although the records are unclear, I am assuming we harvested that fully capped super.  We need to be more precise in our documentation of honey harvest, and we should really harvest in late July to give the bees enough time to backfill the deeps for winter.  No signs of disease were noted in either the survivor hive #4 or the caught swarms #2 warre, #5 lang and #9 TBH (which doesn’t guarantee they weren’t there).  All of those colonies are still alive as of 1/21/11, but we are not out of the winter woods yet.  We will have a better sense of survival rates in April.  We also fed back honey from a hive with Chalkbrood (#6) to a hive without Chalkbrood (#3) possibly spreading the disease.

Mite counts and sugar treatments:

We should also do our mite counts and powdered sugar treatments in August, not September.  We want to knock back mite loads well before the population starts to decline in the fall, which will also give the bees a healthier workforce to backfill the deeps for winter in August.  We should try to do mite counts on all the hives and take notes on what those counts are.  It would be good to compare the nucs with the swarms, and the foundationless bees with those on foundation.  Some hives aren’t set up for easy mite counting (the warre and the tbh).  One of the reasons the caught swarms were fairly disease free (as far as we know, we only tested #6 for nosema and tracheal mites, for example) is that swarming breaks the Varroa mite breeding cycle, giving the bees a leg up on the mites for a season.  Mites increase stress which makes all the other diseases we saw more prevalent, and DWV (K-wing virus) is introduced to the bees from Varroa.  So it will be interesting to compare the swarms versus the nucs over several beekeeping seasons.  If our bees make it through to April this will be something to track.

Things I learned:

Things of note that popped out for me:  the nuc with the best initial brood pattern (#3) was our biggest honey producer.  This record also makes clear how much faster nucs can build up compared to swarms (even swarms on drawn comb).  Package bees should be comparable to swarms.  Swarms that are starting from scratch and building natural comb are of course basically left behind the first season and except for some rare cases unable to produce any honey for harvest.  Losing a queen also knocks a colony back significantly….compare the honey harvest from #5 (caught swarm installed 5/5/11) and #6 (nucleus that superseded its queen sometime in late April or early May).  They are basically the same.

Things I would change or try in 2012:

Things I would be interested in trying in 2012, assuming we carry most of our colonies through the late winter:

Find another source for local nucs

Harvest honey in late July, not late August, keeping better records.

Also I would add 2 supers to the strong hives, not just one.

Mite counts and treatments (if we so choose) in early August, not September, keeping better records.

Making up nucs or walk away splits in the spring (April) to reduce swarming and possibly raise funds….ideally from hive #4, maybe also #3 and #7.

Starting to transition at least one Lang to natural comb (in the deeps).

Raising our own queens in mating nucs in August.

Comparing mite loads between hives that came from nucs vs swarms

“ “ “ between colonies on natural comb vs foundation


Beekeeping Classes in Portland 2012

January is typically the month for garden planning.  Once all of those seed catalogs start arriving I know it is time to start planning for the beekeeping year as well.  Now is the time to build new equipment, rehab old equipment, and research the areas I want to focus on in the coming season, as well as read any new beekeeping books that look promising.  I will include an updated list of resources at the end of this post that might be useful for new beekeepers and those who keep bees in the Portland area.  Check last years postings for a list of books, websites, and other good information for getting started.

My first plan is to start to consolidate my equipment and make things more user friendly and interchangeable (in my household, this means cutting down from four hive systems to two or three).  My foundationless bees are all going into Warre style vertical hives, and I think we will also run a couple of hives in Langstroths (my husband’s preferred method) as well.  Of course, I hope to convert those to foundationless comb over time.  One of my favorite online beekeeping authors, Michael Bush, has consolidated the info on his website into books on foundationless beekeeping.  I haven’t read them yet, but feel confident I can recommend them as I recommend his website all the time.  If you have Langstroth gear, but are interested in keeping bees on natural comb, this might be a great resource for you.  It has useful information for Top Bar beekeepers as well.

warre style hive

So, I am building a few Warre hives for myself, as well as an 8 frame Michael Bush style Langstroth, and hopefully funding the projects by selling off the Top Bar Hives I have (both new and used) on Craigslist.  I hope to build some extra’s that I can use to start small swarms in to either sell or move to the farm, depending on how the land hunt goes.

If you are thinking about keeping bees, now is the time to get your ducks in a row.  If you are ordering nucs or packages, look into placing those orders this month.  If you want to start your colonies with swarms, look into a swarm catching class and start networking with the local beekeeping community.  If you want to take a beekeeping class, look into that now as well, bee schools and classes usually start in February, and here in Portland they fill up fast.  Decide what kind of equipment you want to use, and order or build that now.  April and the bees will be here before you know it!

Here is an exploded view of a typical Langstroth hive with a single deep, a queen excluder, and two honey supers.

exploded view of a typical langstroth set up

Here is a collection of resources for equipment and classes in the area.  Note:  I have not taken classes at all of these venues, so cannot personally guarantee the quality of the classes offered, except for the one I am teaching, of course!

Beekeeping classes in the Portland area for 2012: (check websites for dates and times)

Zenger Farm:  I am teaching beekeeping 101 and a swarm catching class, Tom Lea is teaching a beekeeping 101 and a bee handling class at Zenger this spring.  Class fees are a little higher, but the additional fees go to support Zenger Farm’s great programs, including the Zenger Community Bee Project.  Tom has been keeping bees for years, and helped form the Zenger bee group.

Beethinking:  Matt Reed started a brick and mortar shop this year in Sellwood that specializes in Top Bar and Warre hives, and he usually schedules several classes on Top Bar Beekeeping throughout the year.   Beethinking is a good place to go in Portland for Natural Beekeeping equipment and supplies.  Matt also catches and occasionally sells swarms.

Ruhl Bee Supply:  Ruhl usually hosts several beekeeping classes every spring, as well as classes on Mason Bees.  They tend to fill up very quickly so sign up ASAP.  In the past these classes have been focused on beekeeping in Langstroth equipment, though that may be changing.  The classes I took there were extremely thorough and informative.  Ruhl sells Langstroth equipment, but is also branching out into natural beekeeping supplies and hive bodies as well.  Ruhl sells locally sourced nucs and package bees from California.  They sell out quickly, especially the nucs, so get your deposit in early.

Glen Andresen:  Glen has taught classes for years through the Oregon Department of Sustainability. Classes usually include three visits to Glen’s apiary over the beekeeping season, so there should be lots of good opportunity for bee handling.  Glen is very well respected in the local beekeeping community.

Livingscape Nursery:  Livingscape hosts several beekeeping classes taught by Tom Lea, as well as classes on Mason Bees.  Livingscape carries some beekeeping equipment and supplies.  Livingscape also sells bees in the spring.

Other Beekeeping Classes in the Region:

Willamette Valley Beekeepers Association:  WVBA’s Bee School is Feb 16th, 21st and 25th, at Chemeketa Community College in Salem.

Astoria Bee School:  A comprehensive all day class at Clatsop Community College in Astoria, March 17th.

Friendly Haven Rise Farm:  Beekeeping classes with a biodynamic focus, located in SW Washington.  I believe they offer classes monthly, each month focusing on a different topic.