The Beekeeper’s Companion Since 1861
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The Classroom

The Classroom – June 2020

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

The Classroom - ABJ - Jamie Ellis

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Q Record Keeping

With all the lessons I’ve learned and with all the knowledge I’m soaking up from the UF/IFAS Master Beekeeping Program, how do I keep good records? I need to keep records of bloodlines, timing, problems, treatments, selective traits, etc. I keep a diary of a general account of each visit to the apiary, but with what God provides, He blesses us with more than we know what to do with when we have faith in Him (especially the assets we call knowledge, wisdom, and information). From two to seven hives, and what seems to be a great spring, I feel a bit overwhelmed with keeping records, and frankly, don’t know what questions to ask about them with the most efficient tracking and recording of data for transference into useful information (with as little effort as possible).

N.J. Johnston
Florida, March


For note taking, many people use Microsoft Excel (or a similar program), with a colony having its own spreadsheet. So, a single Excel file will contain multiple spreadsheets, each dedicated to a specific colony.

Other people use something physically at the hive to help them know what is happening to the colony within. For example, I have seen people paint the six sides of a brick, each a different color. Then, they put the side of the brick up whose color indicates the status of a colony. A green side up on a brick may mean that the colony was good (had a queen, no major diseases, enough stored food, etc.) at last inspection. The red side up could indicate it was queenless at last inspection. A yellow side could mean they need food. A black side could indicate the colony is on its way out (i.e. the colony is dying). One of the sides could mean that the colony is facing multiple maladies, or that it is so good it needs attention soon (needs a super, needs to be split, etc.). People who do not enjoy taking notes tend to find this method pretty useful.

Some take notes the old fashioned pen and paper way. I once did this when I was young. I had a three ringed binder that I used for note taking purposes. You might guess, given the number of people on the internet, that you can Google “bee hive inspection notes” or “beekeeping logbook” and get a huge number of templates for note taking. I just did a quick Google search myself and found quite a few different templates (especially on Pinterest). A few of the beekeeping equipment companies even sell inspection guides.

Finally, there are some guides and software available for keeping notes electronically. I recommend Googling “electronic record keeping for beekeepers” and you will see quite a few sources of information on this topic. Some app producers have created apps and even online websites for record keeping.

At the end of the day, there are quite a few options available to you, depending on how you like to keep records. I hope this information gets you pointed in the right direction.

Q  How to Requeen with a Nuc

If you have used a queenright nuc to populate a queenless colony and then repopulated that nuc with the five frames from the queenless hive but don’t have an option to take that nuc two or more miles away, is there another option to prevent those bees from trying to return to their original hive? For example can you artificially prevent them from leaving the box for a period of time, making sure they are fed, and then open the entrance?

Ellen Christian
Connecticut, April


For the benefit of the reader: Ellen had seen some material my team and I produced on requeening with nucs. I use five-frame nucs for purposes of this discussion. In that material, I note that you can requeen a hive with a nuc by (1) removing five frames from the queenless hive and setting them aside (it is even better if there are queen cells on some of those frames), (2) placing all five nuc frames (queen and all) into the hive, (3) placing the five frames taken out of the hive originally into the nuc, and (4) moving your queenless nuc to another beekeeper’s apiary to allow the queen they produce to mate with unrelated drones. Now, you have a queenless nuc that has queen cells, and a queenright full-size hive. You can see more about this by Googling “Ellis EDIS nuc” and reading the document entitled “Using Nucs in Beekeeping Operations.”

Ellen, to answer your question: I usually do not move my nucs away from my apiary when I make them. What I typically do is overpopulate the nuc with lots of bees and capped brood. I have a strategy for choosing the five frames that I will take out of the queenless hive and put into the nuc. (1) I make sure that I put one frame with a queen cell into the nuc. (2) I then add a frame of honey/pollen so that the nuc has some food. (3) Then, I add three frames of capped brood, preferably capped brood that contains some emerging adult bees. (4) I make sure all five of those frames have lots of bees from the queenless hive on them so that if some do drift back, I still have a critical mass left behind in the nuc. (5) Sometimes, I shake an extra frame or two of bees from the queenless hive into the nuc, just to make sure it has enough bees. Giving a nuc a lot of capped brood that is emerging means I will quickly repopulate the nuc with bees if some do drift back to their original colony. I check the nuc every four or so days the first two weeks to make sure they have enough bees. I never move my nucs out of the apiary as I, also, do not have someone close to me whose apiary I can use. Thus, I always overpopulate my nucs in anticipation of some bees drifting back.

Q  Why No Small Hive Beetles

 I have 50 hives here in Lompoc, California (central coast) and I have never seen a hive beetle in a hive. My hives are on a large concrete slab and at night these large carpenter ants come out and clean up. There are hive beetles around; they fly in when I am extracting honey or melting wax outside. Even in weak or dying hives I have not seen a beetle. My only thought is that it is the concrete. I realize the adults can fly in but the larvae may not be able to get to the soil. Or my bees are mean and keep them out. But that would not explain the lack of beetles in a weak colony. Thought I would let you know.

Richard Zellers
California, April


Generally speaking, small hive beetle (SHB) larvae can crawl great distances to find soil (maybe 50 yards or further in a night — I’ve not measured it, but I have seen them crawl quite far — see my answer to the next question). Given that SHB adults fly (as you note), I suspect it has more to do with low densities of SHBs in the area rather than an inability of SHB larvae to reach soil. Perhaps the two issues work in tandem to lower your SHB populations. I am glad you have this “problem.” I am sure a lot of other beekeepers would be jealous.

Q  Similar observation about small hive beetles

I would like to follow up Jim Mello’s question in the April issue about the efficacy of controlling SHBs with external physical barriers. About eight years ago, I installed a large mat of leftover asphalt roof shingles (grainy side up) under my hive stands, primarily to control grass. At the time, the SHB was such a problem for me that I was experimenting with internal traps and oils. Over a period of months, I noticed that I had few or no SHBs. The condition improved to the extent that I no longer have SHBs and have not really thought about them in some time.

I am sure your scientific mind can find any number of concerns with my reasoning; but when I moved some of the stands in 2015 and failed to put down the mats, the SHBs returned to those hives. I reinstalled the mats of shingles and the SHBs slowly declined and disappeared. I have not seen an SHB in more than two years. What am I missing (other than SHBs)?

 JP Wade


Hey JP. This is the second such question I have received this month (see previous question). In fact, this is a question I receive commonly when I travel and give talks about SHBs. So, I have had some time to think about it over the years, though I still have not come to a good conclusion.

You will see from my previous answer that I do not feel that putting colonies on some sort of ground cover provides much protection against SHBs. First SHB larvae are capable of crawling great distances. I always use a story to teach this point. While a PhD student at Rhodes University in South Africa, I had a SHB rearing lab on the third floor of our building. I liked to get to work early in the morning, before other faculty and students arrived. One morning, I got halfway up the staircase to the third floor and I noticed SHB larvae crawling down the stairs. I turned and followed them down the stairs and they were heading out of the main door of the building, about two stories down from my rearing lab. SHB larvae exit hives at night and mine had spent all night roaming around the building, walking down staircases, and finding their way out of the building. Thus, I feel that soil barriers can provide some protection against SHBs, but it is likely pretty minimal. Nevertheless, this is something that should be studied to confirm.

Second, adult SHBs are really good fliers. You can kill larvae all you want, but still have a beetle problem if they are flying from feral or neighboring managed colonies to yours. I guess you would need a rather large barrier (just a guess, but 25-50 feet in every direction from the hive) to make a real impact on SHB larvae access to the soil.

It is hard for me to know for sure, but I suspect the lack of beetles in your hive is just a good coincidence. Incidentally, I have not had SHBs in my hives for months at this time. I use no traps, no soil barriers, no treatments, nothing. Yet, I do not have SHBs even though I have had them in the past and live in the perfect state for them (Florida). Sometimes, I think it is all just part of the natural ebb and flow of their biology … and a little luck.

Q  Even More About Small Hive Beetles

I installed two packages of bees today, one out on a piece of property that I currently have other hives on, but I put one here at my house for the first time which makes them so easy and fun for me to watch. Tonight at dusk I sat out watching them getting accustomed to their new hive and was surprised to see how many had scouted the area and were returning at dusk. The really big surprise was how many hive beetles found this hive at dusk, were landing and walking into the entrance. The bees hassled them a little but the beetles went straight into the entrance. I put these bees in around 2 p.m. today. The empty hive has been in place for about 2 weeks. I had an entrance reducer with the smallest opening in place and I know of no other hives close by. My question is: Have you guys ever observed this behavior? I will certainly be installing my beetle traps tomorrow a.m. but how did these beetles find this new hive so fast?

Bob Ricketts
Florida, March


SHBs can find new colonies as early as the first evening the new colonies are in place, as you observed. One of the keys to this, likely, is the timing of adult beetle emergence from the soil. As you know, SHB larvae leave hives and burrow into the soil, where they pupate. It is possible you just happened to …