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The Classroom

The Classroom – December 2018

- December 1, 2018 - Jerry Hayes - (excerpt)

The Classroom - American Bee Journal
Q  Polishing Bees

Hello Jerry,

Hope this note finds you well since I saw you last September. As always, I’ve been enjoying following your responses in The Classroom. I have a question for you—posed to me by many of our newer beekeepers.

When observing bees bearding during warmer weather, careful inspection will often show individual girls moving forward and back on the bottom board or across the face of the hive—almost in a choreographed fashion. They probably move a quarter inch or less. Originally, I thought they might be cleaning or polishing the outside surface of the hive, but there is no evidence of either.

Any thoughts?

Bee well & thanks for your insight!

Yours truly,
Tom Makoujy


Hey Tom,

I am in pretty good shape for the shape I’m in :)! Thanks for asking. And glad you like The Classroom. I appreciate it.

Yes, to new beekeepers, or old beekeepers, this activity in the hot summer when very little is blooming is interesting. With much of the population of the colony ‘at home’ many of the bees don’t have anything to do as the flowers have taken a break as well. The colony still has to maintain temperature and humidity inside the colony for successful brood rearing. Think of a colony of honey bees as a thermostat. As it gets colder they contract to warm up and as it gets hotter they expand and spread out to allow air flow, so that 93F can be maintained more easily and humidity can be kept at that 50% or so level in the brood area. With all the foragers home, all the bees can’t be inside the colony, so some have to get out of the colony and just hang out until scout bees come back and give them options.

The back and forth movement is called ‘washboarding’ — an old term that described and was familiar to people 100+ years ago. Back then that is how they washed/scrubbed their clothes on a ribbed board. The clothes would be moved vigorously back and forth to loosen and remove dirt and body odors since nobody had indoor plumbing to take showers :). Now we use the agitation cycle in our washing machines.

The bees doing this action are not doing anything to bring value to the colony, such as collecting food, defending or other resource wise. They are just getting out of the way, so the inside of the colony can keep within biological limits. Nervous energy mostly by bees 15-25 days of age. Some polishing or wearing away of paint and wood happens as an accidental secondary part of just shuffling back and forth.

I hope this helps,

From Tom


Appreciate the insight. It’s that “washboarding” action that I was asking about. Nervous energy… makes sense!



Dear Jerry,

We live in southern California where we are having severe droughts. Upon inspecting our hives we discovered that the one hive that we re-queened this spring has no queen again, no food or brood. A second hive we acquired this spring has a similar situation, but we did find the queen. The last hive is doing OK. I have a small organic farm, so there is always some food, their numbers are very small.

What do you think is happening? We are thinking of combining the two small hives together, and we are now feeding them.

Please give us your thoughts.

Thank you,


Hey Sofia,

First, do as you suggest and combine the two small struggling colonies and feed gallons of 1 to 1 sugar syrup to stabilize and stimulate the colony. Interesting that the 3rd hive has figured out where nutrition is and are OK.

Honey bees are great survivors until they aren’t. As an aside, being in Southern California there is solid genetic pressure from AHB (Africanized Honey Bees). What this means is that in some situations, such as lack of forage, a colony with most of the bees and the queen but, not necessarily all the bees, will simply leave the hive and move on to another location for survival. Our European genetically based bees will stay in one location, not move or leave and hope weather, and flower resources will improve on their own before the colony starves to death.

Hang in there,



I live in South Arkansas and have a question regarding the use of oxalic acid for mite treatment. We are currently in our secondary flow and I noticed my mite count has gone up. Should I remove my honey supers and treat now or is it ok to treat with them still on? I have been given two different opinions on this and I need to be sure how to proceed.



As you know mite counts always go up as the days get shorter and the colony prepares for winter by reducing the colony size. But varroa does not reduce its population. It goes up in proportion to the number of bees in a colony. When you had 3 mites per 100 bees when there were 40,000 bees in the colony and now you have 30,000 bees in a colony in early Sept in Arkansas, the proportion of mites to bees goes up. This is why getting the number of mites down before many of the ‘winter’ bees are produced is critical.

You are in an awkward position as you have a fall flow on and want to preserve this and not contaminate it with miticides. You could treat with an acid like oxalic, but these acids won’t get the 2/3rds of mites reproducing behind the capped cells. And it’s hard on the bees and especially the queen who gets hit every time with any miticide used. You are in a geographically better spot than someone in the upper Midwest as you probably have an extra month of summer, early fall before the ‘winter’ bee production kicks in strongly. You could treat with oxalic, but for the reasons noted it’s not going to do much except stress the colony. I would consider holding off until most of the flow is over in a couple of weeks and then picking another treatment after supers are off. You can use oxalic but wait until January when there is little brood and most of the mites are exposed. Then only use it once as an acid vapor.


How long do drones live?


Not the answer you want but it ‘depends.’ After development, they could die in a few days if they fly out and find a DCA and mate with a virgin queen. If they are really motivated and frequently leave the colony, the safe fort, to go to the DCA, they are exposing themselves to everything in the environment that ….