The Beekeeper’s Companion Since 1861

The Classroom

The Classroom June 2015

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

Danielle Downey, Hawaii, Apiary Section Chief

Imagine no winter! But then imagine…. a never-ending field season! Hawaii’s conditions make for top-notch queen rearing and honey production year-round. Hawaii’s large queen producers provide about 30% of the queens used in the USA and 75% of those used in Canada. Honey production per hive is 2nd nationally (93lb), and several of Hawaii’s islands are still Varroa-free (Oahu detection ’07 and Big Island ’08). Small hive beetles arrived in 2010, and are now widespread and very damaging. The arrival of Varroa and Small Hive Beetle were a crisis situation that garnered USDA funding for a new Apiary Program in 2010, which became permanent in 2013. In the last decades, many State Apiary Programs have been losing ground, but with myriad concerns and interest in pollinator health, we are glad that trend was reversed in Hawaii with the recent creation of a State Apiary Program, with Chief Danielle Downey and three staff located in Hilo.

Hawaii Apiary Programs provide regulatory functions to facilitate queen exports and prevent spread of Varroa to new islands; biosecurity work to prevent new pests and Africanized bee incursion; outreach and education to teach beekeepers to prevent, recognize and manage these new pests. Collaborative research projects are also a priority with Hawaii’s unique situation, re-living Varroa’s arrival. With mysterious beekeeping losses throughout the world, Hawaii’s bee health problems are like going back in time—where losses are clearly due to Varroa and small hive beetles. We are most excited to use mainland lessons learned about Varroa to avoid the chemical treadmill, by breeding varroa-resistant bees with partners at USDA-ARS Baton Rouge and commercial beekeepers in Hawaii.

Born and raised in South Dakota, Downey was an entomologist by 5 years old, collecting bugs in the sandbox, but she found her way to honey bees and the pests that plague them over 20 years ago, beginning with a BS from the University of Minnesota with Marla Spivak, working on MN hygienic bees. At Simon Fraser University she received her MSc with Mark Winston, studying tracheal and varroa mite impacts. She then worked with Yves LeConte in France on Varroa resistance to pesticides. Before going to Hawaii to build the new Apiary Program in 2010, she was the State Apiarist in Utah. Building Hawaii’s Apiary program has drawn on all her experience, and she is now one of only a handful of State Apiarists whose responsibilities are entirely Apiary focused. She is active with Apiary Inspectors of America, does Tech Transfer for the Bee Informed Project, collaborates from Hawaii with multiple mainland research labs, and does her best to keep up with the bees!

“P.S. we are hiring!; we are looking for people.” Danielle Downey

Q Seasonal and Regional Differences

I’ve been reading The Hive and the Honey Bee [1992], cover-to-cover, and have a question about something on pages 612-613, the Chapter titled, “Management for Honey Production”, by Dr. John Ambrose. He wrote, “A swarm of bees that issues from a hive in upper New York State in June would probably have sufficient time and nectar flow to store enough surplus for successful overwintering, but a June swarm in eastern North Carolina would simply be an expense to the beekeeper.”

I would think that the more southern swarm would have a better chance of survival. I would have asked Dr. Ambrose about this, but he died in January of this year. What are your thoughts?

Bob Dye


This is just a guess on my part, but I think John may have been informing/commenting on region and the seasonality of plant growth and food availability for buildup. June in NY would be approaching the end of “spring”, maybe starting early summer, with lots of nectar and pollen producing trees and plants. This is a great time to swarm for this temperate insect always preparing for the next winter. They would have time and a flood of fundamentally important food resources to build up and prepare for the next NY winter that would be there in basically 3-4 months. For the NY beekeeper the season is shorter going more consistently from spring to summer to fall and colony growth is more predictable and not drawn out.

If you are a beekeeper in Eastern NC then spring has come and gone and June is summer. In the Piedmont area flower nectar and pollen resources have shifted from the abundance of spring to a more measured ‘summer flow’. The NC Beekeeper doesn’t want to lose the bees to a swarm and then s/he potentially loses what is next. You don’t want to be building up in June (summer in NC); you want to have used the massive spring flow to get population numbers up for the ‘summer’. Not that there might not be enough nectar, but the volume of resources has changed to some degree with a possible summer dearth approaching and fall resources in the future. If the colony population has not increased during spring, the season is virtually lost for the summer flow.

Q Preparing for Packages

Need your help! One of my hives died early, left a lot of honey. Also, I have a lot of frames of comb (extracted). I’m getting two 3# packages of bees. Should I put honey-filled frames in the first medium super (bottom) and then empty comb frames in the 2nd super (top)? Or vice versa? Should I provide a third super with frames with just foundation? Or maybe the empty comb frames should have some with just foundation? Here in Ohio we’re still having pretty cold nights. Advice would be much appreciated.



How about this to consider? When your packages come, use two mediums as a surrogate for 1 deep, using 10 frames in each. Put 5 frames of empty combs in the middle of both mediums and on sides fill in with frames of honey. This gives the packages the empty comb to prepare the brood nest as the queen is released and food on the side to support the near-term colony carbohydrate needs.

Q It Is All About Science, Not Marketing

I have some questions:

(1) What do you know about Ferro (iron) solution in bee drinking water?
(2) SymBeeotic Solution. What is this stuff and is it any good in the honey gut of a honey bee?

I’ve been using Bee Shield this past year. As usual, I always enjoy your Classroom in ABJ.

Wil Montgomery
Southside, Alabama


Thanks for the questions and that you like the Classroom. It is appreciated. Since we don’t have any other basis on which to make a decision, as awkward as it is sometimes to remove perceptions and emotion, we have to stick to ‘science’ as much as we can and then let that lead us to a decision using all the other skills we have at our disposal. So, since I raised that banner, here is what I think.

1) Show me the data that giving honey bees an iron supplement stops Varroa and AFB. Does that mean all honey bees are lacking in the miniscule amount of iron they need to carry on normal biological processes that now include controlling a honey bee pathogen and a huge parasite on a un-evolved host?
2)    I think probiotics are interesting. Honey bees eat a fermented food called beebread. So, it makes sense, if you are feeding honey bees a raw unfermented diet of some kind of pollen sub. patties, that this might be OK if the organisms were the same as in beebread—until they can get real pollen and ferment it into beebread.

If it makes you feel better, I don’t think any of these things are innately harmful, but it is important to consider whether the products are backed up by data demonstrating that they’re worth what you’re paying.

Q Essential Oil

I know you hear this all the time, but yes, The Classroom is the first thing I read. Now for my question: When you use essential oils such as lemongrass and spearmint oil, how many drops do you use per gallon of either sugar water or sucrose? Yes, I am getting excited; my first 3 lb. package is showing up on the 11th and I can’t wait to get started again. Have a great day and a better tomorrow.


A 1

Hey Pat, thank you for the compliment. It is appreciated. So, tell me what your goal is in feeding essential oils?

Pat Responds

My goal is to get them on feed and to hopefully give them …