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The Classroom

The Classroom – December 2020

- December 1, 2020 - Jamie Ellis - (excerpt)

The Classroom - ABJ - Jamie Ellis
 Q  Apivar’s shelf life

 Yesterday and again today, the bees on one of my hives covered the entire front from top to bottom in a heavy mass. Clear skies and 70 degrees. The hive consists of two deep supers and both are full of honey for winter. Also, after treating the bees with Apivar, I have some left. Can I save this for spring or does it have a shelf life?

Mac Daggett, Maine


Sounds like your hive is doing well. I would guess that what you are seeing is simply a strong colony spilling out of the hive. I think this will self-correct soon.

Apivar does have a shelf life (i.e., expiration date) and it should be written on the package. It should not be used after the date indicated on the package. The expiration date indicates the time that the product begins to lose efficacy. This is usually due to the overall break-down of the active ingredient in the product. Thus, using an expired Varroa treatment exposes the Varroa to a level of active ingredient that may not kill it, thus increasing Varroa’s chance of developing resistance to the product. All pesticide labels also include information about storage and disposal of the product. Consequently, there will be something on the label that states how you should store the product when it is not in use. Phrases such as “store at room temperature,” “keep out of direct sunlight,” etc. are common on product labels. Storing the product per the label helps you ensure the product maintains its efficacy and is ready to use once you need it again in spring. Again, all of this is pending that the product does not exceed its expiration date before spring. If it does, you will need to dispose of it per the label.

Q  Feeding hummingbirds honey

 My wife and I noticed a couple of hummingbirds working some flowers on a sweet basil plant a few weeks ago. We had not seen any in a few years. So, I got my hummingbird feeder out of moth balls and made some syrup for them. The recipe was 1 cup of regular white sugar poured into four cups of boiling water.

The hummingbirds frequent it. Then I got to thinking that is not a very nutritious diet; so, being a beekeeper, I figured maybe making the syrup from honey, same recipe, might be more nutritious for them. My questions: (1) Is that a correct thought? (2) Will pouring a cup of honey into boiling water sterilize it enough to feed the bees if the answer to (1) is yes?

Douglas Doremus


Well, full disclosure here: I know very little about birds. So, I am not sure my answers will be particularly useful. ☺ My guess is that humming birds do not get much nutrition out of nectar. I suspect they are a lot like bees in that case, i.e., they use the nectar for fuel rather than food. In fact, I looked this up online and found that hummingbirds mainly eat a variety of insects. That is where they get their nutrition. The nectar is simply their energy source. With that background, I would stick to feeding them sugar syrup rather than honey syrup. I really do not know what potential impact, if any, honey could have on hummingbirds. My gut always says “when it doubt, stick to the way that you know works.” Without being an expert, I would recommend staying with the sugar water.

Your second question is an interesting one. I think pouring a cup of honey into boiling water and returning it to a boil will help clear the honey of pathogens. I think the key is returning it to a boil and allowing it to boil a few minutes. Then, you can feed it to bees with little concern. Beekeepers routinely feed bees honey from other colonies. They usually do this by moving frames of honey between colonies. To me, it is too much work to extract honey from one colony and then feed it to another. I would rather just move frames of honey between colonies. I have fed bees extracted honey in the past. I usually do this when the extracted honey turns out to be of low table quality (it does not taste good). In that case, I dissolve it in water and feed it to bees the way I would sugar water.

Of course, the danger in that is you can spread pathogens, most notably American foulbrood, between colonies. As a result, I only feed honey from one colony to another if I have reasonable assurances that the colony from which the honey came does not have American foulbrood.

Q Small hive beetles gotcha’ down?

 I have a problem with my colony. I had a few small hive beetles from the beginning (spring last year) in my hive; the nuc I started with came with them. Within the last few weeks, the SHB population exploded. I also think the strength of my colony is reduced. I see fewer bees and less activity. This may be normal for the time of year but I am worried. I tried several different SHB traps but without much success. What else can I do to manage the SHB in my rotation? Is there any “treatment” to get rid of them?

Another thing I recognize is that the bees consumed their own honey (some of the capped cells are disappearing and empty). What does it mean that the bees consume their own honey? We still have flowering plants around, etc. Should I feed them? With what?

Matthias Herzog, Florida


It is pretty normal for SHB populations to be higher the time of year you contacted me. You are doing what I would have recommended (trapping SHB adults). I would use a style of trap that fits between the top bars of frames and put vegetable oil or mineral oil + some apple cider vinegar into the traps. I would put up to four traps per box.

If, though, you are not seeing SHB larvae, you likely do not have a major problem. Colonies can withstand adult beetles reasonably well. Instead, you should be worried when you see SHB larvae.

I would also ensure there are enough bees to cover all the frames so that all combs are protected from the beetles. If the colony is strong, bees cover the frames, and you are not seeing beetle larvae — your colony is likely OK. Here are some links to good resources on SHBs: (alternatively: Google “UF Honey Bee Lab” and then navigate this way: > Beekeeper Resources > Pests and Diseases > Small Hive Beetles).

For the feeding issue — honey bees need about a medium super full of honey when heading into winter (which we do not really have here in FL). I like to have that available for the bees by Thanksgiving. If your bees are bringing in nectar at the moment, maybe they can increase their honey stores by then on their own. How much honey is already on this hive? If you have less than a medium super of honey, you might want to start feeding them 2:1 sugar water (2 parts sugar:1 part water) until they have enough stored resources.

Q  More on small hive beetles

 I am a new beekeeper in Southern Ontario, Canada, and this past season my one hive has had a SHB infestation. The honey in the supers had a vinegar-like smell, which I believe is due to fermentation from SHB larvae excrement. I watched your extremely helpful video and I had a few follow-up questions that I thought you might have some insight to.

I was wondering:

(a) Is there any way to salvage the vinegar-smelling honey (eg. boiling it, making mead, etc.) or is it best to dump it down the drain?

(b) Is it healthy to feed this honey back to the bees (maybe boiling it first)?

(c) Should I be concerned about storing the wet supers (from which the vinegar-smelling honey came) over the winter? I froze all supers for 2-3 days prior to extracting the honey. Would it be better to store the wet supers in a freezer or would room temperature be fine?

Dan Vacca, Ontario


Sorry to hear about your SHB infestation.

1) Honey produces that smell when it ferments. Fermented honey is not great for bees. Thus, I would extract/dispose of it. It is not really possible to use the honey for human consumption.

2) I would not feed it to bees. Fermented honey is not good for them.

3) Freezing them (as you did) should be fine. You can always rinse out the combs with water as well. This will wash away the fermented honey. Let the combs dry a couple of days after this and then you can store them. Both strategies work. Just FYI, I prefer to freeze combs that are not in use. However, I realize that freezer space is a premium for many of us (me included). Consequently, I often return my pulled supers back to hives and simply store them on the hives over winter. Full disclaimer: I have only ever lived in southern (warm) climates so I am not certain this would work in Canada. However, it works really well for me. It saves freezer space and shed space.

Reply from Dan:

Thanks so much. Very helpful. Only remaining question (for which I am not really expecting an answer) is how does one eliminate/reduce a SHB infestation in a hive?
Things I have done so far include:

• removed all vegetation around the hive and sprayed salt/vinegar into the soil,
• Beetle Blaster traps in the hive,
• temporarily replaced bottom board with tray filled with oil, and
• try to keep bees healthy (e.g., Varroa treatments).

I understand that there really is not a cure-all for SHBs and it is all about pest control rather than pest elimination. Also, the SHB does not appear to be as big a problem as other pests, so it does not get as much attention/research. My area is one of the first in Canada to have it. They do not even have this issue yet in neighboring towns 30 minutes away. If you have any further advice, that would be great, but I understand that there is not much more that one can do.


There really is no way to eliminate SHBs once they are established in an area. When we have large numbers in our hives at the University of Florida, we use traps such as Beetle Blasters in every box that composes the hive. Sometimes, we will put up to