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The Classroom

The Classroom July 2015

- July 1, 2015 - Jerry Hayes - (excerpt)

Q Pollination

Hopefully you can help us out, we need your expertise. Yesterday we were discussing the best way for beehive placement in fennel seed production in Chile. Fennel is an attractive crop to the bees. In the production manual it was mentioned:

 “The opening of the hives should be placed towards the crop. The hives should be placed downwind from the seed crop, because in this way the flower odors are picked up by the bees more easily and direct them to the crop. If the hives are placed upwind from the seed crop, the bees may feel more attracted to another source of flowers.”

Someone from the group commented that this might not be the best way to place the hives. The reasoning was the following: If you place the hives downwind from the crop with the opening of the hives towards the crop, the wind will cause a decrease in temperature. This decrease in temperature will make that the bees start flying (and pollinating) later, because they try to keep the temperature in the brood chamber high enough. Since fennel is an attractive crop, it is better to place the hives in such a way that the wind is not blowing in the opening of the hives.

What would you advise in this scenario?

Wietske van der Starre


Great question. I think the manual is certainly correct in that it is recognizing that one of the food (pollen and nectar) identification elements is odors produced by and in those flowers for foraging honey bees. One of the big challenges in all honey bee-related pollination activities is maximizing the number of foragers on a particular crop. Honey bees are generalist foragers and visit a variety and number of different pollen and nectar producing plants since no one flower has pollen that has all the 10 essential amino acids in it in the proper quantity and ratio that honey bees need. Keeping honey bee foragers specifically on a ‘mono’ crop in a field situation is impossible. The real question is not which way the wind is blowing, but what other flowering wild and agricultural crops are blooming at the same time as fennel in a 3-4 kilometer radius of the honey bee colonies that will attract X number of honey bee foragers and how can this be minimized to obtain as much focused visits by managed honey bee pollinators.

Wind and temperature are factors and can limit honey bee colony activity, but actual wind speed and solar gain are more important limiting factors. Hive entrances don’t matter much either. A honey bee hive is a sealed box and unless there are large cracks and spaces between the boxes or lid or bottom board, etc., trying to blow wind into a sealed colony is like trying to blow into an empty beer/soda bottle. You can’t do it because there is no place for the air to escape and facilitate air flow.

The technique used most often to maximize pollinator visits, if funds and resources are available, is to rotate managed honey bee colonies in and out of a crop area on a set schedule. Briefly, when new honey bee colonies are brought in from 4-5+ Kilometers away, the foragers are not ‘familiar’ with the location /site and will immediately forage on the nearest flowers. But, in a few days ‘scout foragers’ have explored the area and identified other nectar and pollen sources within the optimum 3-4 km foraging distance from the hive. Foragers are then diverted to these other sources. After 7-10 days these colonies are moved out past the 4-5+km distance and colonies that have been at this distant site are moved into the pollinating area. These new naïve foragers in the colonies once again visit the closest flowering plants and over time the scout foragers ID new food sources and foragers explore these new resources, moving away from the target plant. Then, the moving colonies in and out process is repeated which removes experienced foragers and brings in naïve foragers until the pollination event is deemed completed.

In the event that there are no other flowering resources in the 3-4 km flight range or that those resources are not as attractive as the target flowers, then fewer foragers will be recruited to go further out. Not all, but some.

As an example, stand next to a colony of honey bees on a good day and watch the foragers coming back and forth. My guess is that you will see different colors of pollen on their rear legs that they are bringing back to the colony as food. Different colors represent different flowers visited.

Q Monensin

We have a cattle farm and feed calves ground feed in the spring. Bees love the feed and work it continuously. The feed has Monensin added. Is this product harmful to bees? Brood? Honey?

Robin Alexander


This is an interesting question. Monensin, as you know, is an antibiotic that is used in ruminants (cows) to increase feed efficiency. Like any medication, if it is not used according to label directions, it can cause toxicity issues in cows and other animals it is labeled for. I was surprised to see it is toxic for horses. Seems to be relatively non-toxic to honey bees directly. I say directly because it doesn’t kill them, but I couldn’t find anything on how it affects their gut/digestive microbes. I am assuming (you know what happens when you assume) that it kills some of these organisms which help honey bees digest and utilize beebread and nectar/honey. This, in turn, may affect nutrition levels and ultimately health.

But how widespread is consumption within the hive and does it have colony effects or queen toxicity issues and does it make a difference? I did not see anything like that because it hasn’t been studied. If it were a problem, I would think it would have been reported, but it hasn’t. Is it good for them …probably not….is it bad for them…probably not in the short term. By short term, I am referring to this time of year (April) since it won’t be stored because all the nectar/honey is being used to build the colony. Larval diet issues could come up, but I think it is dosage and volume which I doubt would be a factor in this temporary case.
I guess I am most proud of you paying attention and reading labels and thinking forward. Good Job. Jerry

Q Smoky Comb Honey Sections

I am 15 years old and starting my 5th year of beekeeping. I am trying to specialize in comb honey, at least until my bee project gets big enough to justify a radial extractor. Last year I used 3 of my 9 overwintered colonies to produce over 200 round comb honey sections. To get the bees out of the filled comb honey supers I used a bee escape in the inner cover slot, which worked okay some of the time. I tried blowing out the bees with a cheap shop vac, but it wasn’t strong enough. Unfortunately, I apparently used too much smoke when checking and harvesting some of the comb honey sections, and now I have a few dozen round comb honey sections which smell and taste smoky. They have been in the freezer since Labor Day weekend, and while the smoky aroma has lessened, it is still there.

So, my first question is whether there is any way to get the smoky smell or smoky flavor out of comb honey? The second question is: Do you think if I bought a rechargeable electric leaf blower it would be strong enough to blow bees out of the plastic frames of a Ross Rounds super?

Thank you in advance for any advice you can give me. I received The Classroom book as a gift and I have enjoyed it very much and I also enjoy reading your column in the American Bee Journal.

Joy Westercamp
Farmington, IA


Sounds like you are doing great Joy. You have been a beekeeper since you were 10 and that is fantastic! Good job. Don’t feel bashful in asking your questions. They have been asked since before you were born and there are not perfect robust answers, but let’s talk about it a bit. Smoky smell is tough. Beeswax is a ‘fatty acid’. Fats like to absorb stuff like smells, odors, scents and hang on to them. The goal is to let them air out so a balance is achieved going from a higher concentration (Smoky honey section) to a lower concentration (the air around them). But beeswax will hang on to some odors and not let them go, so simply setting the sections out isn’t perfect. And then, of course, we have small hive beetles that may like to take advantage of comb honey sections sitting out in the open if you will. Check out ‘air purification ionizers’. These eliminate odors in various environments and they may be useful in reducing or eliminating the smoky smell in your sections.

Getting the bees out of the sections is …