The Beekeeper’s Companion Since 1861
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The Classroom

The Classroom – July 2019

- July 1, 2019 - Jerry Hayes - (excerpt)

The Classroom - American Bee Journal

I have said it before, anybody that says they know all about honey bees is a liar.

Here is a ‘Jerry’ new experience that took 35 years to occur. You’ve got to be in the right place at the right time for this stuff. :)

I went outside to look at colonies. One had swarmed and as usual, was about 40 feet up in a tree. In just a few minutes as I was watching it, it decided to leave to wherever it had decided to go. Swarm disassembled relatively quickly and was reorganizing about 100 feet in the air right above my head. I stood there looking up in awe of this reproductive behavior. That’s when some of the bees started pooping. Which of course hit me in several places from head to toe. A new experience from an active flying swarm for me. Then I started getting a few bees from the surrounding colonies in the Apiary starting to hit and bounce off me in the standard defensive warning mode colonies get into when alerted to an intruder. This continued as these bees then became more and more defensive. They were trying to sting me specifically in the head and arms where I had been hit with poop that had been smeared as I was casually wiping it off. I have never known poop to be a carrier of alarm pheromone … or was it something else … or what was going on?

Anybody else had this opportunity in their beekeeping journey?


Hi Jerry,

I read your exchange on hive humidity in ABJ April 2019. Perhaps a look at the following two pieces of research may help to frame the discussion on insulation and humidity:

Toomema et al, Determining the amount of water condensed above and below the winter cluster of honey bees in a North-European Climate, Journal of Apicultural Research 52(2): pp. 81-87, 2013

  1. Mitchell, Ratios of colony mass to thermal conductance of tree and man-made nest enclosures of Apis mellifera: implications for survival, clustering, humidity regulation, and Varroa destructor, Int J Biometeorol, 2015, DOI 10.1007/s00484-015-1057-z

Kind regards,
Daniele Besomi

Reply from JERRY


These are Great! Thank you so much for identifying and sharing.

Q Powedered Sugar

We have always used organic powdered sugar to treat our hives for varroa mites, but we have recently read that the bees can’t digest corn starch. The ingredients list on our bag of organic powdered sugar says it is “corn free,” and uses “organic cane sugar and organic tapioca starch.” So, are the bees able to digest tapioca starch? Or … is “starch, starch,” regardless of the origin? Just want to take care of our honey bees!

Linda in the
mountains of North Idaho


Honey bees don’t digest starches well at all.

For your situation I really would not get too concerned as the percentage of corn starch in different brands varies between 2% and 5%. So, it’s not much.

If you are using it at the time of the year when the temperature is warm enough that you are opening up the hive to treat the bees, that in turn it is warm enough that they are active enough to clean up the powdered sugar by eating it, that means they probably can also leave the hive easily to defecate in the mountains of Northern Idaho and get rid of the indigestibles. You are in good shape.

Don’t do it when the temp is below 57˚°F and they are clustered in the hive.

Have a Great Summer.

Q  The Beekeeping Journe

 Thank you very much for your column each month. I’m a 2nd-year beekeeper. I have 2 hives in my backyard in the middle of the city. One hive is doing great. But when I looked in the 2nd hive I couldn’t find eggs or larvae. There were several queen cells at the bottom of the frame but each one was open on the end. There is one queen cell in the center of the frame that looks intact. What would you recommend I do? Check again in a few days and see if they re-queened themselves? Immediately order a new queen? Combine the two hives? Or something else. Thank you for your help.

Bobby Mills
Arlington, Texas 


Welcome to your next year in beekeeping. It takes about 20 years to have any level of temporary confidence. Honey bees are smarter than we are.

I am glad you have checked your colony. When a colony is trying to survive after the loss of a queen they do what you have seen by feeding some female worker larvae “Royal Jelly” to produce a fertile female. You can look in the colony again and take those frames out with the queen cells and tilt them up and look up into the queen cell and see if there is, in fact, a white larva still being fed. That would be why the end is open. So the bees can gain entrance and deposit food. When the feeding process is over and the queen is ready to pupate into her adult size and form the bees cover the end of the cell, sealing it. The cell that is already sealed is perhaps ahead of the others in development. If so, she will emerge first and find these ‘other’ cells of competitors and sting through the cells and kill her rivals. Kind of like a “Game of Thrones” episode.

Simply for learning fun, I would leave the colony and everybody alone for a week and recheck to see what the status is of this process. If there is a mated queen you will see the results then or soon because of the presence of eggs and young larvae. If not, then time to combine colonies or purchase a queen.

Thank you for the Column compliment. It’s all of us together.

Let me know how it all transpires.


 Don’t know if you remember, but a few weeks ago I sent you an email that I had lost my queen but saw a queen cell. You told me to wait and check it again after a while. Well, I checked my hive today and not only did I see eggs, I actually saw the queen! I wasn’t sure at first because I just couldn’t believe I saw her. But a drone was on the same frame and she wasn’t a drone. So it looks like all is well with my hive. Thank you very much for your help.

Bobby Mills

Q  Dead Colony

I have two hives. In late winter I put a deep inner cover, with fondant, on each hive, both with two deeps and each had the bottom closed with a metal sheet. Whenever I walked by the hives, when appropriate, they always had fliers. Early spring I noticed that one hive was not active. I pried up the cover and saw dead bees on the frames. I performed an autopsy. I could see where the cluster had been, with all frames ….