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The Classroom

The Classroom – March 2021

- March 1, 2021 - Jamie Ellis - (excerpt)

The Classroom - ABJ - Jamie Ellis
Q Boardman feeders to supply water

I have three hives in my back yard and I supply them with plain water via a front entrance Boardman feeder and a quart Mason jar filled with water (that I boil first and let cool) for each hive. When the jar is empty, and I take if off to re-fill it, there are always a lot of dead, soaking wet bees. I scrape them out and wipe down the plastic feeder, refill the Mason jar and put it back in place. My question is, how do I keep my bees from drowning? Also, the wet dead bees smell foul. I am wondering if all of the soggy dead bees have a detrimental effect on the hive. I once used metal Mason jar lids with holes punched in them but I switched to plastic ones that I bought online after the metal ones rusted. The water is not draining out fast. A quart of water typically lasts a few weeks — longer now that the weather is cooler. I would think that the bees would be able to get water from these without drowning by the dozens. Although we do not have a big mosquito problem here, I did not want to set out pans of water in the yard to be breeding ground for them.

Jerome Ruffner
California, January


Your observations are very interesting for a few reasons. First, I also give my bees water using entrance feeders, exactly the same way you describe. I have no water sources around me (no ponds, lakes, streams, pools, etc.). My bees, instead, fly to my neighbor’s horse water trough. I tried to stop this a few ways. I ultimately settled on the entrance feeder strategy. It worked for me. My bees quit visiting my neighbor’s house. I am sharing this with you totally from an anecdotal perspective. I have never seen research on the best way to provide water to bees. I have seen plenty of recommendations, but I have never seen these recommendations actually tested.

Second, even though I seemed to solve my water issue, I, too, had bees drowning in my entrance feeder. (I do not think their rotting/smelly carcasses were a problem for the colony.) Like you, I wondered how this was even possible given that so little water collected in the feeder. It just did not make sense to me (and still does not make sense to me). At the end of the day, I solved the problem by drilling some small drainage holes in the bottom of the feeder to allow any water that drips from the jar lid to the floor to drain directly out of the feeder. Now, I have no accumulation of water and no drowning bees. As always, be careful when drilling holes into the feeder. Plastic feeders can crack easily.

I like the idea of using plastic lids rather than metal ones. My metal ones rust instantly and can be a pain to remove if left on for some time. I never thought about using plastic jar lids. Thanks for the idea! 

Q  Installing package bees

In the past, I have poured or shaken the bees onto the frames that held the queen cage. In an attempt to leave dead bees behind, and especially any small hive beetles (SHBs), I am thinking of placing the queen cage as usual, except leaving the package bee box level with, but a couple inches away from the hive, thereby leaving all the undesirables behind. Do you think that would work assuming the weather cooperates?

Mike Carter
Illinois, January


I think I have a better option for you. I quit shaking packages directly into empty hives because of drift problems I was having. When shaking multiple packages in the same yard, I lose a lot of bees to drift, with some new colonies getting abnormally strong and others being comparatively weak. So, my team and I started installing packages another way to solve that problem, and I think the way we do it will help address what you are referencing.

I am going to talk about this as if I am installing a package into a ten-frame hive. I remove frames 1-5. I then place the queen cage between frames 6 and 7. After that, I mist the package lightly with water (~5-7 mists of water on both sides of the package). I then remove the lid of the package and set the entire package in the space created by removing frames 1-5. By placing the queen cage between frames 6 and 7, you have her right beside the package. I then put the lid back on the hive and allow the bees to crawl out of the package at their own pace. I usually go back a day or two later to remove the almost empty package. Inevitably, a few bees stay in the package. When this happens, I shake what is left out of the package in front of the hive. You should not do this in cooler temperatures (in the 60s and below). Otherwise, the bees may self-release too slow and not cluster around the queen the first evening.

This does not help with your SHB issue as they can self-release into the hive as well. However, they would also go into your hive if you leave the package outside of the hive. Additionally, leaving the package outside the hive comes with the added risk that the bees do not go into the hive as planned. Being only a few inches away from the hive can still lead them to fail to get into the hive.

There really is not a good option for keeping the beetles out, regardless of how you get the bees into the hive. You could always consider putting beetle traps into the hive at the time you put the package into the hive. I like the traps that one can fill with vegetable or mineral oil and set between the tops of frames. There are a few types of these, both reusable and disposable.

Euthanizing colonies, and worker attendants in queen cages

 Question 1: One way to deal with the “mite bomb” suggested by Tom Seeley is to euthanize bees with warm soap water. Could you please provide more guidelines on this? How much soap and how warm water? What do I do with the honey, pollen and brood combs from such a hive?

Question 2: Upon reading Dr. Wyatt A. Mangum’s series of articles on Queen Introduction in American Bee Journal, I understood the benefits of introducing a queen without attendants. However, different sources state that after a queen has mated, for the remaining part of her life, she is fed by attendants. Will the queen be able to feed herself for the couple of days needed for introduction if attendants will be removed? Are there any precautions that shall be taken to reduce any negative effects caused by such an introduction technique? Why would anybody still introduce queens with attendants, if taking away attendants greatly increases the probability of queen acceptance?

Saulius Šimkonis
Lithuania, December 


Question 1: You would mix ¾ cup of liquid dishwashing soap (the type you keep on top of the sink … not the type you use in a dishwasher) with 1 gallon of water. I would administer it with a handheld pump sprayer rather than simply pouring it into the hive. The water does not really need to be warm. This is a recipe that pest control operators often use when they are called by homeowners to eradicate nuisance honey bee colonies. After the adult bees are dead, you could wash the combs with water to remove the soapy residue. If the combs are empty, you should be able to remove all of the residue, allowing you to reuse them. It will be harder to do that if the combs contain brood, honey, or pollen. If you worry about reusing the combs, I suggest this motto: When in doubt, throw them out. You can reuse the combs if you feel you were able to get all the soap off of them. You can see more about using soap water to euthanize bees here:

That is the quick answer to your question. Now I want to approach it from a different angle. I, personally, would not …