Carl Chesick demos honey bee increase with nucleus colonies or ‘nucs’

Last Sunday, Carl Chesick from the Center for Honey Bee Research here in Asheville, NC invited a bunch of volunteers who support his research to participate in a demonstration of making increase using five frame nuc colonies.

 

If you’d like to get in on invites like this while brushing up your hive management skills, sign up to volunteer here:

http://chbr.org/VolunteerSignUp.aspx

 

It was a great demonstration.  Some images and a summary of his technique can be found here:

https://bit.ly/2JnhTEK

And It’s worth noting that you don’t have to have four nucs going to make this work.  The inventory of frames needed for a successful split could all be pulled from a single strong colony.

One of the advantages of having 4 nuc’s like this to work with is that, constrained in a small space, the bees are continually in a ‘prepare to swarm’ mode, which gets them ready to rear queens.  It takes weekly monitoring to insure they don’t swarm, but this method works well for creating weekly new splits from 4 strong nucs.

I wrote Carl after the demo, as I had a few more questions and even after a long hard day at the office, he was gracious enough to more thoroughly summarize the technique he uses, and some of his philosophy around it.

 

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Carl <[email protected]>
Date: Tue, Apr 3, 2018 at 9:32 PM
Subject: Tired Take On “Five Frames”
To: Peter Brezny <[email protected]>

The Nucs are about timing, and making them up from the correct slices (frames) of “time”. With enough nurse bees they can make an omelet.

(1) Frame of eggs. Frame APPEARS empty is covered with bees. These are nurse bees. Do this in late morning/early afternoon when most foragers are out. Nurse bees stay with the new nuc. Nurse bees feed the royal jelly. Nurse bees keep the cells warm.

(1) Frame of open brood (larva) with some capped. Bees on this frame are nurse bees. Nurse bees stay with the nuc. The presence of capped brood indicates the frame was laid earlier by the Queen. These bees will hatch in about two weeks – one week before those in the first frame.

(2) Frames of capped brood. These capped cells don’t need to be warmed by the nurse bees. They will begin hatching right away and ALL will hatch within ten days. They will be nurse bees. Nurse bees stay in the hive until they are approximately 3 weeks old.

(1) Empty frame, to give those 10 day old bees something to do with the wax they excrete naturally. Let them build comb.

The nuc will lose any foragers that get included. The Nuc DOESN’T NEED ANY FORAGERS – they have a bottle of sugar water over their heads. There should be enough pollen in the two open brood frames to feed the queen cells and finish out the open brood. There will be NO NEW EGGS for three weeks.
By the time pollen is needed the starting nurse bees will have aged into foragers. Within two weeks approx. 8,000 nurse bees will hatch. As the new queen is getting mated the larva/open brood will add 4,000 more. Finally, as her first eggs go into the cells the frame that was eggs adds 4,000 more nurse bees. The colony now has bees for each occupation and although it will be three weeks before her eggs hatch the colony has a considerable population to support expansion. Nucs done this early benefit from utopian forage in April and May.

I ENCOURAGE skeptics to carefully go in on day four to see how many Queen Cells have been started. There will be on average 3-6 cells. Be very careful in removing the frames as the cells will stick out from the sides. be sure to clear enough space and lift VERTICALLY very slowly. Also care in replacing. The day the nuc is made up is day 1. If the bees select the proper 12 hr. old larva they will cap that cell on Day 5. Anything capped before five days would be from too old a larva. If it takes 7 days to cap the cells, it means the bees waited two days for a particular egg to hatch.

If one notes the day the cell is capped, it will hatch exactly 8 full days from that time. I ENCOURAGE new Beeks to go in on that 9th day and determine HOW MANY of the cells hatched. These are distinguished by a smooth hatch-like opening at the very bottom. Cells which are torn on the sides DID NOT HATCH – but either died in the cell, were torn out by workers, or were killed by rivals. You might actually see the virgins lingering near the cells or hear them “piping”! On average three virgins survive to walk on comb.

Knowing how many potential queens are present is reassuring. It takes 3 days after hatching for the queens’ ovaries to develop. Then in the afternoons they begin mating flights. Several people have witnessed queens returning with mating sign at their rears by pulling up a seat at the entrance around 3 PM:) on the fifth day after hatch. It takes two days for the queen to mix and store the semen in her spermatheca and begin laying so the soonest the queen can begin laying is 5 days after hatch and on average it is about 10 days. In about 15% of the cases it can take two and a half weeks (17 days). Having the nuc open and apart when a newly mated queen is returning can result in her winding up somewhere else, likely where she’s NOT WANTED. For that reason I RECOMMEND leaving the nuc alone for ten days after queen hatch, but checking every 4-5 days after that. If there are no eggs/open larva 3 weeks after queen hatch, another frame of eggs can be inserted.

>>>>><<<<<<<

I think that ”don’t disturb them” mostly serves to keep beekeepers from developing the art of not disturbing them.

I tripped over another Dark place on the internet.

In response to another one of those “you treatment free cooks…” posts, I put together some text and a lot of links to real facts (below).

It’s hard to see folks claim to be scientists, and spend a considerable amount of time on a ‘pretty article’ that turns out to be little more than an opinion post itself, with a mix of seemingly relevant ‘studies’ and ‘papers’ which if you take the time to research turn out to be funded primarily by the corporations that would like to do away with renewable energy, organic food, and common sense in exchange for profit.  And then for the authors to have the audacity to say, ‘please cite references to back up your statements in the comments’…

Looking more at thoughtscapism’s ‘about’ page I see she’s been paid to provide articles for the “Genetic Literacy Project”…

Here’s all you need to know about the genetic literacy project:

“A GMO lobbying outfit funded by Monsanto, the “Genetic Literacy Project” is run by its Executive Director, the infamous Jon Entine, the world’s leading biotech shill and character assassination operative.”

Genetic Literacy Project

 

Many of the links I’ve listed below you’ve seen before, the top one however, is new, and well worth the time to watch.

In response to (link intentionally broken so as not to promote these falsehoods in the search engines):
https://thoughtscapism dot com/2017/04/10/treatment-free-beekeepers-give-varroa-mite-free-rein

 

Some statements of fact (with references to back them up).

Bees have naturally evolved to resist varroa. New, and unpublished data (at the time of his talk) on feral colony mitochondrial DNA analysis pre and post varroa in New York State presented by Dr. Tom Seely of Cornell University and author of “Honeybee Democracy” definitively show that while feral colonies were drastically impacted by varroa, they have recovered and are thriving at similar levels to pre-varroa exposure:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T7CB8E7jKBc

and another good article by Seeley:
http://www.naturalbeekeepingtrust.org/darwinian-beekeeping

Dr. John Keefus has been breeding varroa tolerant queens for more than a decade in the South of France rapidly creating resistant stock through actually adding varroa mites to his colonies, and published a paper in late 2016 showing his techniques applicable on a commercial scale:
http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00218839.2016.1160709

Kirk Webster has extensively written about his long experience in treatment free apiaries:
http://kirkwebster.com/index.php/collapse-and-recovery-the-gateway-to-treatment-free-beekeeping

Terry Coombs reminds us that this isn’t the first time we’ve seen a devastating impact from an introduced parasite–and that just as now, chemical treatments were not the answer but the bee’s own ability (if allowed to feel the impact of the environmental stress) to evolve has and will resolve the problems we experience now:
http://americanbeejournal.com/letters-editor-march-2017/

In their book “Top-Bar Beekeeping: Organic Practices for Honeybee Health”, Harrell and Crowder describe the transformation of their apiary when they walked away from treatments, stopped ‘managing mites’ and started working again with bees:
http://www.fortheloveofbees.com/

I’d like to note that this book is great for both top-bar and langstroth keepers alike. Concise, well written, extremely informative.

And my own feelings on the topic, synthesized from my own experience as a certified beekeeper, masters level biochemist, and more importantly, observer of nature and one who relishes common sense.
http://www.psychochickenecofarm.com/2017/04/11/let-bees-be-bees/

None of the above suggests treatment free beekeeping is easy. But even here in North Carolina, a state with a long, history of beekeeping (and I believe with the largest number of certified beekeepers in the US) where ‘treat and feed’ have been the long accepted mantra, the current president of the state beekeeping association, Rick Coor, (https://www.ncbeekeepers.org/about/leadership) is a treatment free queen breeder in the central part of the state and Aron Where of (https://www.wehrloom.com/) runs a 300 hive strong treatment free honey production operation at the Western end of the state, and a showing of hands at a recent Buncombe County Beekping meeting showed around 50% of the 50 or so people present were treatment free beekeepers.

Things are changing, but as long as we remove the environmental factors that encourage bees to strengthen their own genetics, they won’t, and its time for us all to recognize that treating mites is driving mite evolution rapidly to a stronger and more aggressive condition.  You just have to look at the list of chemical treatments no longer considered effective to know that the mites are evolving:
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5371937/

 

Who wants weak bees you have to keep on ‘life support’ to survive?

Losing 90% of your colonies is a difficult pill to swallow (and what you can expect when you go cold turkey treatment free) but with thoughtful, careful management, things don’t have to go that way, and once you’re over the hump, your apiary becomes self sufficient, and treatment free with losses comparable to the treated apiary down the road (this is from my personal experience in Dr. Keefus Apiary in spring 2017 where he saw a 13% winter loss, which was better than the average treated apiary in that region in the South of France–data from an informal and probably statistically insignificant poll of local beekeepers).

The more people who choose a treatment free approach, the faster the general population of bees, both managed (hobby and commercial) and feral, will evolve to a stable state of tolerance with this new introduced pest, just as they did when the tracheal mite made it to the US in the 80’s. 2015 tracheal mite infections in NC were less than 1% (passed on to our club wncbees.org, by Jack Hanel, NCDA).

Swarm season is right around the corner. Are you ready?

At least here in Western North Carolina, bees are in such high demand in the spring, it’s very difficult to get all you need from local sources.  This year, I’m determined to be ready for the swarm season when it comes around in early spring.  With any luck, I’ll be able to entice some feral colonies into a carefully placed box, from which I can then begin to rebuild the apiary’s winter losses–hopefully with regional genetics from feral colonies althoug these days, especially with the high concentration of bee keepers in Buncombe County where I live, there’s a good chance you may just be catching swarms from other beekeeper’s hives, which may or may not have locally tuned genes.

Here are some plans for relatively easy to make, and fairly light weight boxes that fit Langstroth frames or if you use top bar plans smart enough to match top bar length and height to Langstroth frames, top bars can fit as well.

http://www.horizontalhive.com/how-to-build/swarm-trap-free-plans.shtml

 

The February meeting of the Asheville Bee-Centric Alliance will focus on the topic of catching feral swarms in the hopes of increasing the population of hives with regionally tuned genetics.  We’ll also be talking about strategies to catch them, when and where to place your boxes, how often to check them, and what to do when you catch a swarm.

If there’s enough interest, we may even have a hand-on workshop  focused on building swarm-catcher boxes using the plans above.

 

If you’re a top bar bee keeper, I’ve built several two foot long hives with the express purpose of catching swarms using the plans from a previous post here:
http://www.psychochickenecofarm.com/2016/11/10/top-bar-hive-plans/

I just eliminated the viewing window and reduced the dimensions by two feet.  So far, this is the best set of plans I’ve found for top bar hives.  The combs that come out of these hives have a handsome look, the proportions just seem right.  And there are many smart touches, including insuring the top bars them selves fit inside a Langstroth box, so some level of ‘interchange’ is possible–an invaluable touch.  Whatever design you use for your top bar hive, keeping the bar lengths at 19 inches will serve you well in the long run.

 

2018 Buncombe County Bee School

I’m teaching a section in the Buncombe County Bee School again this year.  One notable difference is that the Buncombe County Bee Club has completely re-vamped the curriculum and format.  This year the beginner oriented school includes a significant hands on component with breakout sessions that give you direct, small group access to the instructors–most of whom are certified beekeepers at the State level.

If you or anyone you know is interested in learning more about bees, wants to take the first step in becoming a beekeeper, or wants to refine their techniques and gain new skills as a beginning bee-keeper, this is the class for you and a great way to get started learning about this fascinating insect which we rely so heavily on for our own survival.  All proceeds go to support the Buncombe County Bee Club (www.wncbees.org) educational activities.

 

When:
February 24 & 25, 2018

Where:
Martin Nesbitt Jr. Discovery Academy
175 Bingham Rd. Asheville, NC

How Much:
$75 per person

Price Includes:
* course book
* 1 year BCBC membership
* 1 year NC State Beekeepers Association membership
* other course materials

For all the details see:
https://wncbees.org/2018-bcbc-bee-school/

 

Hope to see you in class!

 

 

 

The Bee Informed Partnership is missing the mark by advocating Treatments

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Peter Brezny <[email protected]>
Date: Fri, Sep 1, 2017 at 3:49 PM
Subject: Re: Varroa Mite-A-Thon resources
To: “[email protected]” <[email protected]>

Dear Bee Informed Partnership.

While I applaud your efforts for ‘big data’ collection to help better understand and guide the resolutions of problems affecting the Honey Bee, I would suggest you’re asking the wrong question, and providing advice contrary to what is becoming the accepted practice–chemical free (not management free) bee keeping.

With every passing week a new peer-review, scientific article comes out in journals outlining just how complicated the problem of the introduced Varroa mite is, not to mention how we are compounding the problem by blindly using dangerous chemicals to attempt to put a band-aid on what is at its root, a genetic problem.
Instead, or perhaps in conjunction, you may very well be better served by making a call to track chemical free apiaries, the management techniques used, economic returns, and honey yields rather than following the mite.  Hopefully your survey has a category for chemical treatment free apiaries.

But to my primary complaint, statements on your website regarding treatment presented as fact are unreferenced, and much of the current literature contradicts them.

Specifically from (https://www.beelab.umn.edu/sites/beelab.umn.edu/files/varroa_brochure_final_print_2.23.17.pdf):

“Treating your bees keeps them healthy and also decreases the likelihood that neighboring colonies will become infested. Make sure you test again after treatment to monitor results. *Make sure your tub is dry before performing your next mite test.”

Like it or not, varroa mites are part of the global landscape (save Australia for now) and their chemical control is making them stronger, as evidenced by their resistance to chemical treatments, without significantly impacting their population, as evidenced by their ubiquitous presence around the globe.

It is becoming more and more widely accepted that chemical treatments are exactly the wrong way to approach the varroa mite problem.  I am yet to find a pro-treatment community willing to discuss what such treatments are doing to mites.

No treatment is 100% effective, and evolution works.  By providing environmental factors that kill off the weakest mites, mites with a dramatically shorter time frame between reproductive events that allows for genetic recombination, those who treat their bees are doing exactly the wrong thing for bees, but a great service to the mites by rapidly pushing their evolution to a stronger state (again as clearly evidenced by the now many synthetic chemicals that mites are resistant to and their continued success in our apiaries).

 There is increasing evidence also, that in-hive chemical treatments are detrimental to the honey bee. Once such article, referenced below with other articles showing the survival of feral colonies and their use as genetic sources in breeding programs.

This is a complex problem due to the introduced species, yet feral colonies exist with resistance to varroa, and many queen breeders across the globe in varied climates have demonstrated the ability to select for genetic traits that confers tolerance to mites.

It’s a reckless and disappointing approach to advocate for unproven, costly, dangerous, and failing mechanisms of mite control when so many other options exist.

Appropriate hive manipulations or queen exclusion to reduce mite loads until the colony can be re-queened with a mite tolerant queen are just a few examples.

I ask that you approach this topic with more care and recommend, rather than chemical treatments, you encourage appropriate management techniques which do not strengthen the genetics of mites and stagnate that of bees, but rather the opposite.

Treatment free apiaries are not a fring group ‘infecting’ the world with their mites.  Rather, as Kefuss observes, when robbers or drones bring mites into his treatment free colonies, the mites don’t come back out.  Varroa are a problem because of their introduced nature.  Apis Melifera never had the chance to co-evolve with them like Apis Cerana.

This is a genetic problem, and chemical ‘life support’ systems for bees that will never be able to survive on their own with this parasite is eliminating opportunities for evolution which we can’t afford to squander.

Coombs, LeCont, Webster, Harrell, Kefus, Crowdeer, Brother Adam, and so many more scientists and backyard keepers alike are not wrong in this.  We keep apiaries, without the hazardous (to ourselvs and the bees) chemicals you advocate.  Please adjust your rhetoric to align more fully with what the science is clearly bearing out and what is obviously the optimal path for long term survival of the species.

Strong genetics are the solution to the Varroa mite problem.
Thank you for your time and consideration.