The Beekeeper’s Companion Since 1861
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Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor – February 2016

- February 1, 2016 - (excerpt)

Metal Tailgate Protector

Until a bargain flatbed comes along, I am still working out of my Dodge pickup truck for working 500 hives. I have a plastic bed liner, and frequently work off of the tailgate. While lighting the smoker, usually several times, I balance it on my tailgate, the one with the plastic liner. Over the past few years, the hot smoker has left a few circular heat rings on the plastic liner, and at the time I remind myself to possibly secure a metal plate on part of the tailgate. I then forgot. I already have a nice sheet metal smoker box, but this doesn’t help when lighting the smoker. While winding things up this fall, I recalled all of the mental notes I made to install the metal plate. I scrounged a piece of aluminum diamond plate from a good friend, drilled some holes, and secured it to the tailgate. It turns out that the plate works very well, the smoker is more stable, and no more unsightly burn marks. I hope that this might prompt some good ideas for other beekeepers. And a big thank you to Paul Fickau, my very good friend who helps me with my bee projects.

Andy Hemken, the Bee Guy

Preventive Feeding With Pollen Substitutes

Recent research done by De Grandi Hoffman Lab (2015) shows feeding bee colonies with pollen supplements is no guarantee for better health and survival (ABJ, vol155, no12, page1318). What can we conclude when feeding with the less valued pollen substitutes? Doesn’t it depends on when, where and what?

In areas with long harsh cold winters we often do preventive feeding using pollen substitutes, along with heavy syrup, reasoning that brood to be raised in midwinter, about two months before fresh pollen becomes available to foragers to collect, may suffer without adequate reserves of “beebread”. A regular colony collects around 50 pounds of pollen per season (Keller 2015). Sometimes it doesn’t because of unfavorable weather or other reasons and brood has to be raised when the winter bees are getting old and dying fast.

In a letter entitled “Playing with the winter sun”(ABJ July 2014, page714), I focused my attention on the use of solar hives to break the long cold periods of winter, to enable easy move by the bees to the receding food stores, to avoid starvation when there still is honey inside the hive.

Things didn’t work well with my solar hives last winter (2015). My rate of “dead outs” was much higher than I expected, about 60%. From a cursory inspection of the dead colonies, I recall the following: all hives had plenty capped honey left and no areas with “bee bread”; no larvae corpses and a few dead adult bees head down in the brood area cells ( Did they die when cannibalizing the brood?). This scenario led me to assume the colonies died from lack of protein. However, life and death reside in complexity for us to accept quick conclusions. To illustrate this point: The winter was one of the longest and coldest on record in the Northeast region; there were suggestive signs of mite infestation, either Varroa or tracheal, in some hives, early in the season; five of the colonies were caught swarms which are known to have a lower winter survival rate.

In solar hives, like in prepared sun exposed hives, the frequent bouts of warm temperatures inside them, 15 to 30 degrees above the ambient temperature, may mislead the colonies to strongly start raising brood too early, as they do regularly in response to the first signs of spring arrival. It may have led to the exhaustion of the ‘bee bread’ reserves, way before pollen blooming became available for bee forage.

This past season, along with the usual management recommendations in preparing the hives for winter survival, I placed greater emphasis on open feeding of powdered pollen substitutes from early fall to early December and placing ‘patties’ of the same commercial brand over the top of the frames. The foragers clean the dishes with pollen quite fast as if greedy, when the weather conditions were favorable. Pollen substitutes are better than flour, saw dust or other materials that look like pollen that bees carry into the hive in times of blooming scarcity.

I still believe the use of solar hives is important in the regions with long cold winters as long as there is plenty of capped honey and “bee bread” inside them. I am always prepared to count my “dead outs’ because there are many other lethal factors involved that may jeopardize the function or the life of the queen, the only bee in tens of the thousands capable of lay fertilized eggs. I just don’t want my colonies to die of sugar or protein starvation.

Joe Sousa

Beetle Catch Pads

Sometime in the past, there was a discussion of using a type of reinforced paper towel for use in trapping small hive beetles. The discussion popped up from time to time in various media, but I could never locate the towels. Finally, someone brought up the Swiffer dry mop pads, and I acquired some, and placed them into around 25 hives. I cut the pads in half, and placed them in between the two brood boxes. I left a small corner sticking out of the front of each hive, to let me know which hives they were in. The bees propolized some of the fabric, but a funny thing happened. The small hive beetles got their feet stuck in the …