The Beekeeper’s Companion Since 1861
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The Classroom

The Classroom – January 2023

- January 1, 2023 - Jamie Ellis - (excerpt)

The Classroom - ABJ - Jamie Ellis
 Q   QR codes are frustrating

I do not have a smart phone. I live in a poor cell phone range area, so I use a landline phone. I found your QR codes frustrating. You say things like you can read more about it here. Then, you have a square with dots. Meaningless for me. You do include a web page link with some, but not others. Could you please put the web address next to all of them?


Thanks for your feedback and the reminder. I knew that there would be folks reading the articles who did not own/use smart phones. Consequently, I have tried to include the web address each time I use a QR code. I reviewed some of the recent articles in the series and see that you are correct! I have often forgotten to include web addresses when I provide QR codes. Honestly, though, many people find long web addresses embedded in the answers frustrating (I have had that feedback as well ☺). Furthermore, there is significant room for error when I copy/paste web addresses and when readers type them.

Because of this, I often tell readers how to find articles using a Google search (or search engine of choice) by providing the keywords one should use in the search. I might say something like “You can find my website here: or by Googling ‘University of Florida honey bee laboratory.’” Upon review of recent past articles, I found that I have failed to do that as well. Your point is well taken. I will try to ensure that I include advice on how to search for something online (i.e., what appropriate key words to use) when I provide a QR code. Sorry that I have made things frustrating in the interim. I will try to do better.

Editor’s note: This one’s on me. The QR codes are a fairly recent addition (to this column and elsewhere), and my first thought was, “This is gonna confuse and/or frustrate some people” — not only because not everyone’s got a code reader, but occasionally different code readers give different results. So while the codes are very helpful to many readers, it is incumbent upon us to provide alternative means of finding that information. Jamie may have missed a couple, but that’s what an editor is for. I will try to do better too.

Q  Is Apis mellifera migratory?

A friend of mine was vacationing in Colorado and posted of a colony he found to Facebook. There was, in fact, a swarm of bees at the Keyhole. The sign posted at the colony suggests that there is a pattern of bees occupying this location seasonally. Do some honey bees migrate, or is it more likely that there is something about this spot that is simply attractive to swarms and there is a reliable source of swarming bees nearby?

David Fullerton
Canada, September


Thanks for the question. For the benefit of the reader, I wanted to share that the sign in David’s accompanying picture said:

HIKERS – A traveling hive of honey bees has been seen at the Keyhole. We are just a stop on their journey. This is their 3rd season returning to our park. Please approach at your own risk, use caution, and observe respectively.

I did not include the picture in this article since someone other than the questioner took the picture. Now on to the question . . .

Your second guess is likely the correct guess. It is very unlikely that this was a migratory colony of honey bees moving through the area for three years. I want to qualify this statement a bit. First, there are species of Apis (the honey bee) that are migratory. For example, Apis dorsata is a migratory honey bee in Asia. Colonies of this bee are known to spend part of the year in one location and part of the year in another. In fact, the colonies apparently go back/forth to the same locations year after year. Thus, some Apis species migrate.

That said, this is not a common trait for Apis mellifera (the western honey bee). I guess I need to be careful how I use the word “common” and also how one defines “migratory.” You see, certain subspecies of this bee have high absconding tendencies. You could argue that absconding serves two purposes: (1) colonies leave unmanageable stressors (pests/pathogens/lack of food) and (2) they do this to find greener pastures. If you take this stance, then you possibly can argue that absconding is a type of migratory behavior.

In the case of the mystery colony at the Keyhole in Colorado: I do not think this is an example of migratory behavior in Apis mellifera. Instead, I think a swarming colony arrived at this nest site, moved in, and then died at some point through the year. I think the same exact thing happened years two and three. This gave the appearance that a migratory colony was passing through each year. However, this is not likely what happened. Many feral colonies do not survive longer than one year, due to resource and Varroa stress. Whatever attracted the first colony to the nest site would be attractive to swarms in subsequent years. The colonies likely succumbed to the same stressors as well. So while the sign could be correct, it is much more likely that a different colony was occupying the nest site and then dying later in the year, only for the process to begin again the following year.

Screening for Varroa

I have kept bees for almost 25 years and enjoy this hobby to the max. I regularly count mites throughout the year before treating. The time I struggle is from July to September when a full box of stores weighs as much as 100 lbs. Such boxes can hardly be shifted to access the brood chamber for an accurate sample. Shifting individual frames from the upper box can work, but by the time you shift these and remove the box to sample/treat, the hive residents are very unhappy. It is really disruptive. Consequently, I have resorted to deconstructing ONE hive per yard and sampling that. If I find mites in numbers above the economic threshold, I treat ALL of the colonies by cracking the seal between the stores box and the brood box, and throwing on the MAQs/Apivar, whatever. This is not my preferred method, but it saves my back.

Besides replacing all my equipment with 8-frame, or spending big bucks on an exoskeleton, what could I do to ease this process and save my colonies from the dreaded mites?

 Rev. Steven Warren


I would likely consider moving everything to whatever size super you use (either mediums or shallows exclusively). That way, you can work the colonies more easily. Medium supers top out around 60 lbs. I know beekeepers whose standard configuration is three mediums — roughly two for the brood chamber and one for the food super.

Sampling one and treating everyone based on it is not really a good indicator. The Honey Bee Health Coalition recommends the following (this is an excerpt from their Varroa management guide):

If an apiary has fewer than ten colonies, sample each colony. For larger apiaries, sample 300 adult bees collected from one brood frame in a minimum of eight randomly selected colonies in each apiary (or 3 percent to 5 percent of total colonies within multiple apiaries).

The problem with sampling only one colony is that you might not treat when you need to if you randomly sample a colony that does not have many mites. Thus, I do suggest scaling down the size of the boxes you use for your hives. Another option is to find an apprentice who might be willing to do the heavy lifting with/for you. They learn how to keep bees while you can save your back. Are you a member of a local bee club that has members who may be willing to help?

Stopping spoilage in sugar water

In the October 2022 edition of American Bee Journal, you were addressing hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF), and you stated that acids such as vinegar support the production of HMF. I have used vinegar to keep sugar water from spoiling. The alternative seems to be bleach. I have avoided that due to the possibility of additives such as in the new smaller, splashless version all over the store shelves. I wonder if pool chlorine in a very small amount would be a good thing to use in sugar water to kill bacteria and slow down spoilage. If so, how much and what type would you recommend per gallon of 1:1 sugar water?

Sandra McMurry-Richey
Missouri, October


Great questions. I felt like someone has asked these questions to me before and I was correct. I answered a similar set of questions in the December 2021 article for this column. I summarize here the points I made in that article. First, almost all beekeepers who have fed sugar water to bees in glass jars have seen the mystery black scum form on the walls of the jar. I have never seen any research actually determine that this stuff is harmful for bees. However, I am aware that sugar water can ferment, and nothing fermented should be fed to bees. My point is that beekeepers may be trying to control a problem that is not actually a problem. There definitely needs to be work on this topic.

Second, I conducted multiple literature searches on the topic of adding bleach/chlorine/vinegar to sugar syrup to determine if it keeps sugar water from spoiling and if its addition to sugar water is harmful to bees. I could not find any research projects conducted on this topic.

This leads me to my third point, which is that I would not use bleach or chlorine in sugar water to keep it from spoiling. I am aware that many beekeepers add various concoctions to sugar water in an attempt to keep it from spoiling. I have heard about the use of vinegar, bleach, and other substances. However, I always stress to folks that these are untested methods. You could argue, maybe even rightfully so, that these have been tested in the court of public opinion and that beekeepers have found a way to use these products in sugar water safely. I just hesitate to recommend something that has no data to support it. So what is a better option?

I recommend feeding colonies only the amount of sugar water that they can consume within 2-3 days. That limits the likelihood of spoilage. I also do not store large amounts of sugar water prior to use. I have always made it “on demand” when needing to feed bees. That way, I do not have large volumes of sugar syrup susceptible to spoilage.