Margaret's FAQs

Margaret Hala, currently in a Director role for our organization, is the author of all of this beekeeping guidance.  She began these FAQ's years ago, and this guidance was published in our quarterly newsletter, THE BEELINE.  This assemblage of information represents a compilation of the guidance that Margaret has provided many a beekeeper over the years, and most likely represents only a fraction of the FAQ's.  The information you see here today is what was available in our historical electronic versions of the newsletter.  

Margaret has a wealth of knowledge, and on several occasions, I have called her with problems that I was experiencing with my own colonies.  She has been a guardian angel for my bees, and I appreciate all that she has done for my colonies over the last five years, as well as the contributions she has made to the CIBA organization for decades.  

Valerie Just, CIBA Webmaster

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Margaret's FAQ library is available to either casually scroll through the entire list of 80 plus transactions or you can filter by category.  When you select a category topic, it filters the library to just that one topic.  Once you are ready to review another category, use the Reset Filter button to gain the full list of transactions in the library.  



Instructors said fungicides can be bad for bees. Why?

Bees need fungus and have fungus in their guts to process their food, i.e.: nectar, water and pollen, and if the bees or their food sources are sprayed with fungicides it can be detrimental to the bees being able to digest and process food. If you need to use a fungicide on a bee food plant use it when the bees are not there and it has time to dry before the bees visit the plants.


I've been told to use 9 frames in my supers, but I saw a video where the beekeeper was using 8 frames. Does it make a difference? How? Which is better?

The reason for using 8 or 9 frames is to allow for additional space for the bees to extend and draw the comb on the super's frames out farther, which makes uncapping easier. The more the cell is drawn out from the frame the more wax you're cutting off to extract. We use 9 frames with a 9-frame spacer in the supers. If you are making the bees draw the comb on frames in the super, they will draw them out farther so when you put them in the brood chamber they are all ready for use.

Hive Beetles

I heard that using Swiffer Sweeper pads in brood chambers help control hive beetles. Is this true?

I've heard this also, but have no first-hand knowledge as to whether or not it's true. I do know that putting an unused dryer sheet at doorways deters flying insects from coming in, so I would assume it's pretty much the same thing.


What can I do with/for my bees now that my honey is off and extracted?

Now is the perfect time to decide if you want to enlarge your number of colonies or maintain numbers as they are. If you want to maintain numbers, decide how may queens you want to replace and get them ordered.
What are you going to do with any extra brood you have in the spring? (REMEMBER, THE GOAL OF ALL SPECIES IS PROPAGATION AND BEES PROPAGATE BY SWARMING.) Contact other beekeepers to see if they will buy your extra brood, or honey.
Sort not-in-use equipment for replacement or repair. Build new frames, but DO NOT install foundation till April/May. Make plans to attend CIBA's auction in April to get more equipment if you plan to expand.
Take the time to talk to others. If you want to get out of beekeeping, consign your equipment to the auction so others can use it.
After it warms up pull bottom brood chambers and sort them also, then replace frames you remove with frames of drawn comb or foundation to put back on as a second brood chamber.

Uncapped Cells

We have a lot of frames that are filled but only about 60% capped. What should we do?

If there are frames in the super that are 75% or more capped you can remove those and slide the remaining frames together or you can leave everything as is for another week or two. I feel the honey flow is still on because of the rains we had in July. The rule of thumb is that the super as a whole be 75% capped, but we still don't like to take out frames that are totally or almost totally uncapped. If you shake the uncapped frame like you're shaking water out of it and the honey comes out, it's too wet to take.
It's not going to hurt to leave the supers on for another week, but don't leave them on till the bees start pulling the honey out and into the brood chambers. That's definitely after the honey flow is done.


What do I do with Queen cells in July? Scrape them, start new hives, or leave them alone?

It's best to be checking in June for swarm cells and removing them, but this does happen in July, sometimes May, too. If you leave the swarm cells alone the hive WILL swarm, meaning the existing queen and roughly half the bees in the hive will leave to start a new hive. This leaves one or more cells to hatch out and get a new hive set up and going. It also means at least a three week break in honey production for that hive and no extra honey production for the portion of the hive that left, so this isn't a good proposition. Typically, the hive that swarmed will have enough food in it to last till the new queen is mated, starts laying and HER bees hatch and get to work. The problem is, sometimes more than one queen will hatch and leave with half the bees in the hive. If this happens, each after swarm gets smaller and smaller. Not good.
ALSO, if you remove all swarm cells AFTER they are capped, the mother queen has quit laying and you've destroyed any chance for that hive to make a new queen, because the hive WILL SWARM. If the queen cells are capped, you MUST leave one and try to find the mother queen so you can remove her and 2-3 frames of brood into a new body making them feel like they have swarmed, or take your chances that you will be able to catch the swarm as they leave.
We like to remove the frame, sometimes two, with one or more of the best-looking queen cells and let the bees make a new queen so that we either have a new colony, or 2 colonies, started or a fill-in for a colony that loses a queen and doesn't catch a new one. A queen hatching on one frame with multiple cells is more likely to be able to find and eliminate the other uncapped cells than when she's in a full double story hive.


When and how do I threat for mites, etc?

Mite treatment is Spring before supers are put on and, in the Fall, after they are removed. This is a good reason to get honey pulled early, but as per the above question, you can find problems with the honey not being dry enough to pull.
As for what to treat with, there are a number of products that will work, it just depends on where you are located and what you're comfortable using. Mite-away, oxalic acid and the others will work best for you if you use one in the Spring and another in the Fall. The same way treatments for foulbrood, etc. works. By switching treatments, it makes it harder for the mite or virus to become resistant to it. I've not been as involved in this portion of working with the bees as in previous years as I'm involved with several Farmer's Markets and don't have as much time to devote to helping work the bees in the Fall.


With the focus on winterizing---What and how do I feed the hives, what do I medicate with, when and how?
When do I wrap and what with?

This is exactly what we're going to be talking about at the Sept. meeting, so PLEASE, come.
Medicate when or asap after you pull the honey. Insert the entrance reducer as soon as it starts cooling off in the evenings, like anytime now, as mice like to move in with cooler weather coming. Middle entrances can be done when you treat for mites or foulbrood to give the bees time to become used to using the middle entrance. Remember that the bottom will probably become clogged with dead bees during the winter, so a middle entrance is good for allowing the bees to get out and for air circulation. Not allowing access for air movement allows condensation to drip on the bees and brood and kills them. Wrap anytime from mid-Oct to early Nov. depending on weather. Wraps can be roofing tar paper cut to fit, waxed cardboard hive cover boxes, cut down sheets of Styrofoam, hay/straw bales blocking the wind, next to a building to block wind, whatever. You also need to insulate between the inner and outer cover. Think of your house and insulate the hive accordingly. There really isn't a wrong way to insulate a hive. At least I can't think of one, but some methods are better and easier than others.
White bead board is easily chewed up and spit out of the hive by the bees, so you will need to cover one side with screen or aluminum foil so they can't chew it. There are higher rated insulating boards than white bead board that can also be used. Cut to fit inside the inner cover ring, or better yet, cut to fit from edge to edge of the inner cover. If your inner cover has a notch cut you don't need to notch the insulating sheet, but if it doesn't mean you need to provide for the bees and air to get through.


What are your beekeeping recommendations for the month of March?

If you have overwintered colonies, you should have been or be getting out to check for live colonies and feed them. More colonies die in March and April than the rest of the winter combined.


What other recommendations do you have?

I recommend that you track when the honey flow starts in your area for a couple of years. That sets an average time for the upcoming years, and you can anticipate the honey flow to start around the same time.
Also track the end of the honey flow as it nears September, so you know when to remove your crop of gold.


Last year was my first/second/third year in beekeeping. I remember hearing the sugar water mix is different for spring and fall but can't remember what.

Spring mix is 1 x 1 sugar and water. That's 8# sugar to 1 gallon of water. They need the food to live on and to build up numbers and restore vigor. Fall is 2 x 1 so they can build up food for the winter. If you so choose, I can see no reason not to go with 2 x 1 spring and fall, but that's up to you.


Is it too late to order queens? Where?

No, but don't delay much longer. Ordering now in the middle of March will probably get you queens in mid-to-late May or even into June.
Where depends on what strain of bees you have or want to get. Carniolan, Italians, Buckfast or Russian are some of the most popular strains, with Italian and Carniolan probably the most popular. Personally, we like Buckfast.


Had a hive swarm last spring. Caught and hived the swarm and set it up in the yard. They left and went back home. Why?

The bees may have left without a queen and thus returned home. Or maybe the field force returned home leaving many fewer bees with the queen. We have hived a swarm in the yard where they swarmed without trouble, but we usually hive it and take it to the next bee yard. This eliminates the field force from returning home. We also take frames of brood with bees with us to the next yard when making splits. This keeps bees adhering to the brood from returning home.


How long should I wait for the queen in a swarm I caught to start laying before combing with another colony or putting in a new queen?

It depends on if it was a fertilized or virgin queen. An existing queen who swarmed will start laying in a few days. If it's a secondary or after swarm with a virgin queen who is not mated it could take 2-3 weeks.
She must go on her mating flight before she can lay fertilized eggs.


Last spring, I was late getting my splits made. When I did do it, there were lots of swarm cells. I scraped the small cells and removed the larger ones. The hive swarmed anyway and then the colony became a drone laying colony. Obviously, I shouldn't have removed all the large cells. How many should I have left, and why? Wouldn't leaving them all just have encouraged the hive to swam more? I need answers for this spring, so please help.

I would remove all but one or two of the best-looking cells to restrict how many queens will hatch and leave to start new colonies. Unless you can find the existing queen and remove her with only a frame of two of brood to make the colony think they have swarmed, they will do so. Every frame with capped queen cells poses a possibility of a new colony, so make use of them if it's warm enough for a small hive to survive the nights. (Late May and June are wonderful for this type of starting new hives.)
If you find queen cells BEFORE they are capped, you can remove them with frame or more of brood (depending on how many frames of brood are present) and replace with empty frames in the parent hive. This relieves crowding and gives the feeling of swarming to the colony. If you have a colony with LOTS of bees that hasn't started throwing swarm cells yet, you can take a frame from them and put with a cell removed from another colony to form a new colony. It's all a part of the splitting process.


I've heard several ways to make splits. How do you do it?

If we're getting queens, we know when they are supposed to arrive, so we go out 1-3 days before arrival and move big larvae and capped brood to the top brood chamber, leaving NO MORE THAN 5 FRAMES OF BROOD (small larvae and 1 frame of large to capped brood) in the bottom chamber. We then shake all bees into the bottom chamber, put a queen excluder between the chambers and put the top chamber back on. The brood is all there and are still part of the colony, the queen just can't get to those cells to re-lay them. When the queens come we just go back, remove brood from the top chamber, remove the queen excluder and turn the queen loose into both chambers to now lay in all empty cells. I know it's getting into the colonies twice, but when you are trying to install queens you don't want to be delayed with looking for the queen in the colony as well as looking at brood suitable for removal.We start our new queens on 2 frames of brood, preferably capped or large larvae, 1 empty frame and 1 to 2 frames with honey. When the queen is out of the cage (usually 2-5 days) and laying (may take up to a week) we are getting her upgrade to a full-size colony prepared and when she is laying in the third frame we move the nuc up into the full-size body. At this time, you can add a couple of frames from a strong hive to the nuc, one frame of brood on each side of her 3 frames, thus increasing her to 5 frames of brood.
This doesn't stress the queen so much by giving her a smaller start-out hive size, nor do the bees think the queen should be laying more than she is capable of doing right out of the cage.
We've tried 3, 4 and 5 frames to start out with a new queen and have found that we get a 90-95% acceptance rate with 2 frames to start. It's 75-80% with 3 frames and down to 50% with 5 frames. At the price of queens, we prefer to do a little more work.
You can also make a 3-4 frame nuc above a parent colony with a queen excluder and when it's stronger, kill the old queen or remove the new colony.


I know you've printed your splitting procedure, but I've lost it. Please print again.

We do our best to find out when the queens are to arrive and go out to our yards one to three days before their scheduled arrival to separate the brood we want to remove and what to leave. Take a queen excluder for each hive to be rearranged. Take off top brood chamber and sort through the bees till you locate the queen. Set the frame she's on aside so she can't crawl back into the hive and proceed with sorting frames of brood. We leave 3/4 frames of eggs and larvae and one frame of capped in the bottom, moving all the rest (large larvae and capped) into the upper brood chamber. If the queen is on a frame you want to move up top, she can be gently guided down into the bottom. Place the queen excluder on top of the bottom brood chamber, then put the top brood chamber back on and close up. When the queens arrive all you do is go out the separate hive, remove brood from the top brood chamber, remove the queen excluder and let the queen resume laying upstairs.
The best part of this is that if the queens are delayed the newly hatching bees are still in the hive but the queen is restricted from lying more upstairs. If the delay is going to be more than a week, remove queen excluder or resort the brood to swap hatched frames of brood with more capped frames. This is a man-made artificial swarm control method.


As a second or third year beekeeper who has seen swarm cells, I need to know if I can use them to make more colonies and how to go about it. We are again approaching swarm season, so a fresh reminder will be helpful.

When we first started beekeeping, we were told that a new queen WILL NOT SWARM, but we've found out differently. It takes longer for them to do so, but if they get too crowded they will swarm. The breeders continue to upgrade their genetics, but it's done for year around honey production in the south and not winter conditions in the north, so the bees explode like gangbusters sometimes and become crowded fast if the weather is warm enough for the queen to keep laying. At any rate you need to keep an eye on how fast your new colonies are expanding.
As a second or third year beekeeper, I'll assume you are not talking new colonies but overwintered ones. They also can expand rapidly in weather with temps in the 70's and 80's, as it is now in mid-May. The answer to your question of can you use swarm cells, is yes, you can.
If the swarm cell is capped the queen has stopped laying and will leave the hive. In this case you leave at least one swarm cell, TRY to find the queen (she's shrunk down for flying) and remove either her and a goodly number of bees with a frame of brood (if any) and install in a new body. Move to a new yard if possible. If you can't find her, and you probably won't, leave a frame with at least one swarm cell on it and take the rest. Put one frame with at least one swarm cell in a nuc box, and if you can, one frame from another colony to supply capped brood and bees till the new queen hatches and matures. This relieves the crowding in the swarming colony and makes them feel they have swarmed. Many times, there will be more than one frame with a swarm queen cell on it in a colony preparing to swarm, so you may be able to make several new colonies. If the weather is to stay warm you can make these on only the frame of brood you removed from the swarming colony, but if it's in May when it can get chilly again, you will probably need an additional frame of brood and bees. June and July are good months to start new hives on one frame of brood. Of course, these queens will be for fall replacement of failing or old queens. They will not get strong enough to produce anything that year.
In addition, the hive that swarmed will probably not produce anything that year, as the main honey flow is only 4-6 weeks long, and it takes the majority of that time for a new queen to get the hive population back to full strength. Remember the time frame for maturing and hatching days for the queen (14 days) the worker (21 days) and the drones (24 days).
A hive will not, normally swarm unless there is a honey flow on, so a queen hatching the first week of the honey flow takes about 7 days to mature, 7-10 days to fly and mate, 7-10 days to start laying upon return, and 21 days for workers to hatch and start helping in the hive. It takes a couple of weeks or longer for newly hatched bees to become field bees, so there is pretty much the length of the honey flow.
Obviously, your course of action is to prevent swarming to start with, but I know things happen and it occurs.


How do I know if I've gotten the queen when I do get a swarm captured, and how do I ensure they swarm remains in the hive I install the into?

When you remove the swarm from the limb, fence post, wall, etc., the bees will keep returning to that location unless you have captured the queen. Of course, a few will keep returning to where they were because the queen smell is there but will eventually go to the hive box. It helps a lot to have some honey and a frame of brood, if possible, in the hive box when you install the swarm. We like to leave the newly installed swarm setting where we caught them till evening, but it's not absolutely necessary that you do so. Sometimes it's very easy to keep them in place and sometimes nothing you do will keep them.


I have been keeping bees without using chemicals or other manipulations, naively thinking to assist them develop their own resistance over time. This is my third year of no treatments and I fear they are over the threshold and will all perish. I run my home yard on screened bottom boards and they seem to be hit the hardest. I want to treat, but have sworn not to. I see bees crawling in front of the hive with deformed wings and unable to fly. My heart cries treat but my head says NO! I could use come kind words.

If I have an ill child, I take that child for treatment, I don't pray for a miracle cure. It's the same for my dog. You have accepted bees into your care and must treat them to the best of your ability. If this means aiding them in learning to cope with mites, so be it. I don't like to take medications either, but I do what I must. Life is too precious not to do so.
If you choose to go with no chemicals, that is your choice and there are non-chemical ways to help. Screened bottom boards allow 5-20% of mites that fall naturally to drop to the ground, and if you dust the bees routinely with powdered sugar, that percentage can climb to 50% or more. This could give your bees the time needed to learn to cope with the mites. It would also give you a chance to find those bees that are the most hygienic of your colonies and propagate from them.
If you decide to go with the least invasive treatments, you will find that oxalic acid vapor is an option. Another is smoking the hive with sumac to assist in knocking mite numbers down. It's supposed to help, but sumac is poisonous to humans and livestock, so proceed with caution. Remember, if a heavily infested hive crashes, those bees drift or evacuate to other hives with adhering mites, thus infesting and overloading those hives with mites. If you have a heavily infested hive, isolate it to treat or kill the bees fast.


I've heard to use powdered sugar to dust for foulbrood and even mite control, but powdered sugar has an anti-caking agent starch which bees can't digest. This can contaminate honey if applied during honey making times.

I've heard that fine powdered dextrose is better than powdered sugar, but if dextrose is unavailable, powdered sugar is the least harmful to the bees than other dusting agents. I've also heard that Varroa Mites are very unlikely to become resistant to substances like thymol or other organic acids.


How can I, with just a couple of colonies, recover the wax out of frames that needs redoing?

You can make a solar wax melter with a window frame, glass, a cookie sheet and bread pan. Make a box and sides for the window, cut down one end of the cookie sheet and put the bread pan to catch the wax as it melts. Angle it to catch the sun and let that do the work.
You can use am old slow cooker, on low, by putting about 1 inch of water in the pan, adding the wax pieces and checking every few hours. Chances of flame up with HOT melted wax is lessened by heating on low. When melted, pour the wax off into mini loaf pans for reuse or sale. Or a double boiler of one pan set in another with water in the bottom pan. Stainless steel is best.
The dark wax is good for dark candles like Christmas tree candles and for other crafts that do not require white wax. It can also be sold back to bee supply places for more cleaning and reuse. It returns less than white wax, but there is a market for it.

Laying Workers

I've gota hive with laying workers. I purchased a new queen and the bees killed her. I've since been told that you cannot save a hive like this, but have also heard that you may be able to do so. Do you know if it's possible and how?

If you have more than one hive MAYBE you can.... Let's say you have 3 or 4 hives. Take one frame with eggs from the best hive and 1 frame with larvae to capped from each of the others. MAKE SURE YOU DON'T MOVE ANY QUEENS!!! Place new frames in the middle of the drone laying hive brood area and frames from drone laying hive on outer edge of brood area in queen right hives, replacing the removed frames with those from the drone laying hive, leaving at least 1-2 original frames in the drone laying hive. Move attending bees with frames.
This tells the drone laying hive they are without a queen and the other bees from the drone laying hive now in the queen right hives to mix and be accepted their new hive.
You could also dump all frames of bees out on the ground a t least 30 ft from hive and place 1 frame of eggs and 2-3 frames of larvae and capped in the drone laying hive. In theory, the workers will fly back to their home but the unfertilized laying workers will not.
Personally, I like the first option.


I've had long time beekeepers tell me that with experience you will get to know when you open the hive whether the hive is in good shape or has problems. Is this true and how long will it take?

I don't remember how long, but it may well be 2-3 years or more. One day you'll open a hive, hear a definite 'whirr', and then you'll think "oh, now I understand". It's definitely a different reaction and sound when you open the hive. Another beekeeper contacted me to say that they finally recognized the sound of a hive with problems. "It only took 5 years, but I finally got it," they report.


My electric knife keeps heating. It does not shut off and thus scorches the wax and honey. Is there anything I can do, other than replace it or send it back for repair?

We have one that keeps heating too. What I did was take the knife to an electrical repair place and got a foot pedal. The electrician needs to know the wattage of the knife to determine what foot pedal to use. Now we step on pedal, knife heats, lift foot, no heat, just like a sewing machine. Been doing it this way for years.


I had 1 hive last year that died out and I want to know is it still usable and how do I keep it over the winter. It also molded last spring. Can those frames still be used?

Yes, the hive is still usable, IF you have kept mice and wax worms out of it.
Any hive that dies over the winter has damp combs, and these will mold unless separated. As soon as you start examining you hives in the spring and find a dead one, remove 1 frame and separate the rest to allow air flow between the remaining frames. Place the removed comb in another box, temporarily. It also helps to shake and remove as many dead bees as you can. You don't need to pull out all the dead ones jammed into the cells with tweezers, but if you can get some of the solid cluster of dead bees out of the cells this will allow the comb to dry. It will also make it easier for the next colony to remove any dead bees remaining.
As for using moldy combs, we've found that if the wax dries out to the point that it is hard (fingernail stuck into it, breaks it) the bees will not reuse it. If on the other hand, the wax is soft and pliable (a fingernail stuck into it pierces it), they will clean and use it.


Someone told me there has been a change in the idea of how Varroa Mites damage honey bee. I missed the Fall IHPA Meeting and would like to know more.

It has been the belief of scientists that Varroa Mites sucked the blood of Honey Bees. Research has been done that seems to prove this wrong. The V. Mite consumes the fat from the fat cells of the H.B. thus weakening them to the point the can't continue to survive when they contract other disease, virus or stress factor. Sort of like tape works becoming so large and numerous within a human that they can no longer consume enough food to survive.
The speech Dr. Sammy ???? gave was VERY GOOD. He has good people skills, in addition to his smarts in research, and is well worth the time and effort to hear and see him.


What's the best bee pasture to place colonies next to or in?

A combination of 10% prairie and 90% crop ground shows the best results for placing bees in crop areas. This can be accomplished by planting strips of prairie in areas that drain fields, along roadways where you can't plant crops and along timbered areas where it's too shady for crop plants to thrive. This will also help immensely in erosion control. It is figured that it eliminates up to 65-75% of loss of top soil. This also showed better results on weight gains for the bees that straight prairie areas.


When should I get out and check my bees to see if they are alive, how heavy they are, etc?

Those 2-3 40-50* days we had in Jan. would have been perfect, it they had been a month later. Next time we get 40+ days, get out and check them. More colonies die between Feb and dandelion bloom the overwinter. Throw sugar on top of inner cover if they are light, or use a feeder bucket on top of inner cove. Cover with an empty body and outer cover to keep heat in the hive. You can also put crumpled newspaper in empty hive body, anything to insulate the hive top. The bees WILL NOT go down to feed, only up or out if the weather warms somewhat so they can break cluster.


What's the difference between nurse, guard, and field bees, and how can I tell them apart?

A bee goes through several stages in it's life. A newly hatched bee will feed and orientate itself to the hive, then begin cleaning the cells and taking nectar and pollen from returning field force bees. Then comes caring for the queen then guard bees and finally field force bees before quietly leaving the hive to die. They all look the same, except for the newly hatched bees. They're fuzzy looking.


My electric uncapping knife overheats. Do I have to get a new one and where?

No you don't have to get a new one. Ours overheats also and we went to an electrical contractor and had them make us a foot pedal to use. It's just like for a sewing machine, but will require a heavier duty foot pedal and cord. Step on the pedal, the knife heats, life your foot an the power is cut to the knife.
When the knife does finally quit working, get another knife for the CIBA auction from someone who doesn't know this trick. Or is you want to get a new one, any beekeeping supply catalog has them in it.


If I feel I should supplement feed my colonies to ensure winter survival, how much, when and how?

Obviously this is dependent on location and how harsh your winter usually is in your area. It also depends on if you're feeding honey , sugar syrup or corn syrup. Here, in central Iowa it is recommended that colonies have at least 60 pounds of honey left on them as food. Many think this is not enough and say 90-100 pounds is much better. Some falls have a good honey flow and some have almost none. Getting the honey off your colonies before Sept. 1 means you will have to feel them less.
A 2:1 ratio of sugar to water is best for fall feeding. If feeding corn syrup ask you supplier if he's added water and how much. Straight corn syrup needs about 1 gallon water to 4-5 gallon corn syrup or it will sugar too fast. (Spring ratio of sugar/water is 1 to 1.)
As for how---you can open container out of a barrel or bucket, but this draws other bugs, coons, possums, etc. You can use an entrance feeder in the fall , but bees will not come down to it in the spring. A hive top feeder bucket or container works best. You can see how fast they are taking the food just by lifting the outer cover is there is a box around the bucket.
As for when to feed----when you pull the honey crop, check the frames in the top brood chamber. If they aren't full feed. They will take food till it gets too cold to break cluster. We used to feed 100-150 colonies in an urban setting with hive top buckets.


Now that I've gotten my honey extracted, how do I clean it? I can wash off the honey, but how about the propolis?

The best way is to use a power washer with hot water. DO NOT EVER USE BLEACH ON STAINLESS STEEL! If you do not get all the propolis off, it can build up over the years and you will have to use more than a power washer. That's when using a paste of baking soda and salt helps, Scrub and rinse. Hot cooking oil emulsifies the propolis. Use it as hot as you can get it without smoking and wear gloves. Saturate the propolis ands then use soap and water to remove the oil. If you don't want to do this every year, maybe every other year.
Another way is to use denatured alcohol to remove the propolis and WD-40 to remove wax build-up.


Why won't the bees leave the brood chambers sometimes? I use BeeGo and usually have good results.

Check for brood in the super. If there is none, you'll have to use a bee brush or blower and remove the frames one at a time. This happens sometimes but the bees think they have a reason for staying. Maybe you used too much BeeGo.


How do I get rid of the smell of Bee-Go spilled on wooden ware?

One way is to use ammonia, but I've seen no directions as to how or how much.


How long are mites able to survive in wither without brood to breed in?

It's a loooong time. As long as they can feed on adult bees they will survive easily till spring. In an empty stacked pile of boxes with frames ---up to 7 days.


I plan to paint/treat my supers this fall as I put them away for the season, this preparing them for next year. What so I paint/treat them with?

This mixture can also be used to treat brood chamber, but all wood MUST be unpainted, so you'll have to scrape any paint of supers. You use:
1 quart linseed oil
1 quart paint thinner
1/2 pound paraffin wax
1 gallon copper naphthenate paint

Mix paint thinner and sax together and let set overnight at a temp of at least 70* F. The next day mix all ingredients together.
This must be painted on unpainted wood and above 50* F. The wood can be weathered about 6 months before painting, so you can treat in the fall and paint in the spring, but after painting air at least 60 days, so don't wait too long. Or you can treat in the fall and paint and let air all winter.
Each ingredient serves a purpose. The boiled linseed oil forms a hard coating on the wood. The paint thinner dissolves the paraffin wax which fills the pores n the wood thus supplying water proofing. The copper naphthernate kills termites and maybe ants and preserves the wood from mold and rotting.
You can also dip and treat new wood, especially bottom boards. Dip mitered corners of hive bodies before assembling. This extends the life of the wood for many years.


This morning I found the front half of a bee lying in front of the hive, still kicking. I couldn't find the rest of the bee and there was no sign of any other injury, just missing abdomen. What going on?

Sounds like a wasp attack. It's common and poises no problem unless there are several wasps trying to gain entrance to the colony, as can happen at this time of the year. Bang on the side of the hive to rile the bees up for defense of the colony and chase the intruders out. Then reduce the entrance to make defense easier. One wasp can kill hundreds of bees before it gets killed, so several wasps can wipe out a hive.


From where do I pull a frame to check for eggs and larvae: middle or side?

I'd suggest pulling frame 2 or 3 from one side. The queen is less likely to be that far to the side unless it's mid-season, so you're less likely to roll her and possibly kill her.


What happens if I do roll, injure or kill the queen when I pull out a frame of brood?

Obviously you just lost the cost of a new queen, and at $30.00 per queen, plus shipping, you don't want to do that. You've also lost most or all your honey production for the year, waiting for a new queen to be shipped, the hive to make their own queen or the time and trouble to find and go get a new one from somewhere, IF you can find one to go get. It's pretty much like when your colony swarms---you lose production.


I installed a new queen about 4 weeks ago. She started laying, but now I can find no eggs or small larvae. What do I do now?

After a month the breeder will not replace your lost queen, even though she may not have been well bred enough to last the whole season. Or she may have been injured in transport, who knows?
First check to see if the bees have started a queen cell and if it's capped or if there is a larvae in the cell. If not, order a new queen IMMEDIATELY, or if you have more than one colony you can take a frame WITH EGGS from another colony and put it in the queenless so they can make their own queen. You will have lost honey production for the year, but may be able to save the colony.
If you find multiple eggs laid on the side walls of the cells, then you have a laying worker and the colony will not accept a queen. The laying worker or workers give off a pheromone scent making the hive think they have a queen. That's when you must shake all the bees out of the hive 20+feet away from that hive and put a new queen and frame of brood into the box and hope for the best.
We've found (having about 5 colonies per yard) that replacing all the frames from the drone layer colony with 1 frame of brood from the each of the good colonies and introducing a new queen works. The brood from the queenless colony can then be given to the queen right colonies to replace those taken.


Can I use swarm cells to make new colonies? I've heard queens made from swarm cells make for a swarmy colony.

That was the thought several years ago, but all queens are made from cells whether manipulated or because the bees in the hive think it's necessary. The location of the cell on the frame makes it a superscedure or swarm queen. I think it more likely that it's the genetics of the parent colony, and maybe how well the new queen is mated and the weather while she was out getting mated.
One other thing we've found---when it's HOT (say late June or July) you can start a new colony with one frame of brood containing a swarm cell. That way even though that colony won't produce that year, you have replacement queens if you need them. It also makes the colony think it has swarmed by taking out the frames with swarm cells and relieves crowding. A colony stops bringing in pollen and nectar when there is no laying queen and doesn't start till the new queen has hatched, matures, mates and resumes laying.
The one thing you must remember is that if the swarm cells are capped the mother queen is going to leave with at least half the bees. You must leave at least one cell if you can't find her or the colony will perish.
If you remove frames with queen cells that are not capped, the queen may start laying again as crowding has been relieved.


What's the benefit of starting a colony in a nuc box over a 10 frame body?

By starting a new colony with fewer bees than a full sized colony, the bees don't have as much space to heat or defend. They will build faster because more bees are able to take care of expanding the brood nest and fewer are needed elsewhere.
A nuc box is another piece of equipment you will need to haul around and store when not being used, but it pays for itself by allowing to new hive to build much faster. In fact it's much easier to move a nuc box around to collect those swarm cells than it is to handle a 10 frame body.

Brood Chamber

Is it necessary to reverse the brood chamber is the spring, and if so, why?

It's more advantageous to you and the bees to remove the bottom brood chamber in the spring then to just reverse them. One, it gives you a chance to repair and paint the body and check and repair or replace frames of bad comb. Two, it gives the bee that much less room to heat and defend so they can build faster, and they do that. You can just reverse them, but if you can remove the bottom brood chamber for 2-3 weeks, till they need it again I would do so.


When do I put on my first supers and should they be drawn comb or foundation? Does it matter?

YES, it does matter! Bees draw comb very well in the spring, but once they quit they usually will not go back to doing so. At least that's been my experience.
Year 1, all you have is foundation, usually, so there is no options but to give them foundation. You may not get the colony to draw any supers, but if so I'd count on no more than 2 medium depth supers being drawn.
Year 2, how many foundation should you make the bees draw comb on before you put on the drawn comb? I'd say at least 2 more. Remember, they've already drawn the brood chamber comb, so they'll be ready for supers sooner in year 2 than they were in year 1. If you guess wrong and the bees draw 2 supers of foundation and then fill the 2 drawn supers you have, you could be in trouble. Then you must take off the bottom super, or both of them, extract and put back on the hive. It takes 3-7 pounds of nectar to draw a pound of wax, so when you get 4 supers drawn and you get a good honey flow, 4 supers will not be enough. You'll have to draw more. It takes a lot of nectar to draw wax that could be made into honey, but if you don't have the supers to get it, you still lose out. Every year is different, but you will learn about how many supers you will need, eventually.
We've had colonies draw and fill 250 pounds of honey in one season. Not just one colony either.
We've also had years where a colony or more than 1 didn't even draw 30 pounds.
One other tip---do not mix frames with undrawn plasticell and frames of wax foundation together in the same super. The bees will not draw the plasticell. Once drawn it makes no difference, you can mix plastic and wax drawn foundation. Durigilt and wax together are usually ok (editor's note Durigilt is a Dadant made foundation that uses flat sheets of plastic and a heavy coat of beeswax that is then embossed with the cell pattern. The heavier beeswax coating makes it more acceptable to the bees. The plasticell foundation that Margaret is referring to has the cell pattern embossed into the plastic and usually then has a light coating of wax added. Some beekeepers will add additional wax to make that foundation more acceptable to the bees).
You can get by with a single super per hive, but you must go out at least every other day and remove the center frames, slide the rest together, take the removed frames in to be extracted and replace them the next day. LOTS of work, but doable.


My bees are hanging out all over the front, sides and under my hive. Are they getting ready to swarm? Will adding a super keep them home?

I'd certainly check to see if they need a super, but I'd say they probably need more air. Lift the lid and put a small rock or board between the outer and inner covers to allow more air circulation. That helps cool the hive better and may take care of the problem.


Top super or bottom super? Why?

Either way is OK and correct. Bottom supering keeps bees from walking over the filled and capped cells and allows for faster dispersal of the incoming nectar. It also make for more lifting to check and add supers.
Top supering means easier addition of one or more supers to the colony, but if it gets cool the bees may not want to get that far away from the heat of the brood chamber and cram the nectar into the brood chamber area, promoting the swarming tendency. They will also be more likely to travel stain the capped frames.
We prefer bottom supering. (Editors note: If you are giving the bees supers with frames of undrawn comb {foundation}, they should be bottom supered).


When do I pull my honey? How do I know when it's capped enough? Do I really need a separate room with a dehumidifier to dry the honey? How long should I let the supers set with the dehumidifier before extracting?

When a super is at least 75% capped you can pull it. Or pull the capped frames and leave the uncapped pushed together in one super to be finished. Most beekeepers pull their supers in August so the bees can use the later honey for winter stores. We don't usually start till after the State Fair and find that this is enough time for the colony to store enough for winter: IN OUR AREA.
For a dehumidifier, we use a corner of our open basement with the supers stacked crossways and a dehumidifier and a fan close. We also keep the dehumidifier emptied twice a day. Leaving the supers for at least 2-3 days should be sufficient, unless you know the honey is wet. If in an enclosed room, less time may be needed.

Bee Removal

A while ago I was told about a colony that had nested in the wall of a house and the homeowner had sprayed liquid Sevin on the colony. It killed the bees, but would the honey and wax have been salvageable? How would our recent dry weather affect honey bees if Sevin or other insecticide was sprayed on plants or trees?

If you must use insect control use liquid spray at a time the bees will not be working the plants to collect nectar or pollen. Powder is much more likely to be taken back to the hive as pollen.
In the case of an insecticide being sprayed into a hive of any sort, I definitely would not try to re-use the wax nor would I eat the honey or feed it back to the bees.
Because of the extremely dry spell we had in July I would hope any spraying done was used early or late in the day.
Information from someone who works in this field was that dusts, wet-able powders, flowable liquids and emulsifiable liquids are the most dangerous to bees, in that order, during a dry period.
Sevin is listed as a non-residual insecticide to be used on vegetables and fruit trees. It is highly toxic to bees. The bees can and do carry the residue powder that remains on the plants back to the hive, where they die. If the bees are sprayed or contact the wet leaves they will die before returning to the hive, and if they take the dry residue back to the hive they will also die, so I don't know why it can be classified as non-residual.

Wax worms

I'm an avid ice-fisherman. Can I use old beeswax to raise and feed wax worms? Can I do this in my home?

Wax worms prefer brood comb because they eat the cocoon left behind in the cell after the bee hatches. They do not eat the wax, but they do damage it tunneling through to get to pollen and emerged bee cocoons.
They do better in cornmeal with grated beeswax, but you can also use glycerin in place of beeswax. Bran cereal flakes can also take the place of cornmeal.
I see no reason why you can't do this in your home, if you so wish.


I had some brood in my super when I pulled if off the hive. Should I leave the bees to hatch or extract the frames before the bees hatch? Does extracting cause the bees to die before hatching?

If you choose to let the brood hatch first, you can attempt to let them out of the extracting house without letting more in or kill them instead of releasing them out. They should join your house-yard hive if you have one or another colony nearby.
In some cultures, the brood is eaten. It has a nutty flavor, so that's another option.
Either method will work. If you choose to extract leaving the larvae in the frame, the extraction spinning does cause the bees to die in the cell and the death of the larvae can cause the frame to stink. I would not uncap the brood cells before extraction if you choose to go this route.


This is my first year keeping bees and I understand that you should use all wax or all plastic foundation in a hive.

Bees prefer wax foundation when drawing comb and in my experience will ignore plastic frames of foundation in a hive body when wax and plastic are mixed. Wax coated plastic foundation or Duragilt can be considered the same as wax foundation. If only uncoated plastic foundation is offered, the bees will draw it, but if you put on a wax foundation super on top of a plastic foundation super the bees will ignore the plastic that has not been drawn to go to the wax. In addition, if you use plastic or Duragilt foundation and a bare spot develops on it the bees will not re-draw it. It must be re-waxed in that area.

Drawing comb

My bees didn't completely draw some frames out last year. Is there any way to get them to finish those frames?

Yes. Put those frames back in the center of a super with frames of foundation surrounding them this year.

Drawing comb

In my second year, I didn't have enough drawn comb for supers. When I added foundation in June the bees wouldn't draw the cells out. Why not?

Early in the spring, start with frames of foundation in your supers if you want more comb drawn that season or you want to increase the number of colonies, especially during years 2-4. Get combs drawn first - it takes an estimated 5-7 pounds of honey to draw a pound of wax and once the bees stop drawing that season they will not start drawing again. In July and August, put on already drawn supers to finish the season.
It will take several years to get enough frames of comb drawn until you can consider not needing the bees to draw more frames. It's always a good idea to have more of your brood chamber size comb drawn so you can put it into the brood chamber at the beginning of the year to replace any frames that have more than 30% of the comb as drone comb or if the frame is over 5 years old.
During year one, plan on two brood chambers and one super--filled with the appropriate sized frames with foundation for the bees to draw. During year two since the brood chamber frames are drawn, plan on 2-4 (depending on size) supers with frames with foundation. The bees may have to finish pulling the first year's super and then new supers.
How many you will use will depend on the nectar flow and the area your bees are located. Better to have more supers than be short during a good honey flow.
You will make mistakes because no one taught the bees to read the same books we do and every year is different.

Drawing comb

I've heard it's difficult to get bees to re-draw plastic foundation. How do I get it done?

Scraping the old comb off the plastic foundation and putting the frame back in the hive usually doesn't work well . The plastic foundation will need to be coated with wax before placing it in the hive. Coating the foundation is a time-consuming job, so you must consider that in your decision to recoat or replace.
REMEMBER---wax burns readily, so heat carefully. It is recommended to use a double boiler to melt wax; the wax will NOT completely clean out if the pan, so the pan will need to be dedicated to melting wax. REMEMBER to use water in the bottom pan of the double boiler. Also, see Q6.
Another method of getting the bees to redraw plastic foundation frames is to scrape well, dip in heavy sugar syrup, let dry a bit and replace. You may have to scrape off any cross comb frequently until the bees draw the comb right. Make sure that foul brood was not present in the comb. I've not tried this but it sounds like it might work.


Why replace brood comb on such a regular basis?

Even if you don't, farmers or gardeners in your area probably use herbicides, pesticides and fungicides on their crops. Residues of these chemicals are brought into the hive in nectar and pollen and get into the wax. It's a good idea to replace brood comb every 3 years and no more than 5 years to reduce the amount of those chemicals your bees are exposed to on a regular basis. Many beekeepers date their new frames on the top cross bar as they first put them into the hives to be drawn. This way they can keep track of the age of the frames.
Some use pencil others black felt markers. I recommend marking with a pencil.


When I replace the brood comb, how do I render, or should I render that comb for reuse?

Reusing comb is a personal decision. If you use chemicals to treat disease, those chemicals are in the wax and will remain in the wax when it is reformed into foundation. You need to decide if you really want to use foundation with chemical build-up in your hive. I don't know for certain, but it is doubtful that Dadant. Kelley, etc. have a way of removing chemicals from wax.
If you determine you want to render wax for reuse, a double-boiler method should be used to manage fire safety. You could make a larger double boiler by using a large kettle, preferably stainless steel, and place it inside a larger kettle, which wouldn't need to be stainless. Place water in the bottom kettle for even heat. The dark wax makes good candles and other wax crafts and ornaments.
As an alternative, super comb wax can either be sold to Dadant, Kelley, etc. or provided in exchange for beekeeping equipment.

Wax worms

My husband uses wax worms when ice-fishing during the winter. Can we use damaged comb to keep and/or raise our own wax worms?

Yes, you can use it, but it's not necessary for the wax worms to live. They don't eat the wax; they damage the wax they burrow through to eat the wax proteins (the pupal cocoons from the larvae in the brood comb).

Per a wax worm producer, they can also be kept and raised in/on cereal flakes or cornmeal with grated beeswax in it. Glycerin is interchangeable with beeswax for this purpose.


I had some "critter" predation last year. The ground was scratched up in front of the hive and the colony weakened.
Anything I can do?

Roll up chicken wire and tack it onto the front of the bottom board at the front entrance. Bees can get through easily, but animals can't. The same with joint splicers---what you use to join boards together to make one longer board. Tack several of them onto the bottom board in front of the entrance and the "critters" will be deterred from scratching.

Bee Stings

I just started beekeeping and am wondering about bee stings. How do I tell if I or someone else is having a normal or allergic reaction?

Partial or full body flush, shortness of breath, pounding heart. chest pain, faintness, severe swelling, nausea, etc. ARE NOT normal. Swelling, even a rather large area of localized swelling, can be considered normal, but if it involves the entire arm or leg, get help. Remember a pounding heart and fast pulse rate may be part of a panic attack from being stung, but it can also be part of an allergic attack.
Although it is rare, people who are apparently tolerant to bee stings can have a sudden and life threatening reaction---with no warnings.
The first time, I personally experienced a reaction I laid down for an hour or so and came out of it. The second time, it lasted longer and I felt faint, so I called the ambulance. THANK GOD, the allergy series of shots worked, and I only need to be stung once in the spring and once in the fall to keep up my immunity.


I have a strong hive that looks like it will make the winter, and it needs some work done on it. The bottom chamber wood is in good shape, but needs painting. Can I paint it with bees still in it, or will it kill or otherwise harm my bees?

Painting a hive with bees inside isn't a problem. Late in the day works best. Choose a good latex paint.
Another option is to move the frames to another hive body and then complete the repairs. DO NOT REARRANGE THE BROOD NEST until you know what you're doing and NEVER split a brood nest early in the spring or on a new colony. If all the bees have moved to the top brood chamber removing the bottom brood chamber makes it an easy thing to do as you can then sort frames that need to be repair or replaced.


Last year I had trouble with swarming. One of the swarms I caught wouldn't stay in the new box with foundation I gave them. I had to catch and hive them 4 times before they stayed, and then I'm convinced, only because a more experienced beekeeper told me to coat the foundation with honey. It worked. Is there a better way to manage this situation?

If you have access to it, place a frame of open brood in the center of the hive. Bees will not usually leave brood. If you don't have access to brood try spraying the foundation with sugar water or corn syrup, then put a feeder bucket on the hive as soon as the bees are inside. This will give them a reason to stay. The advice I give most often is, no more than 5 frames of brood the first week of May. One-two full frames of eggs, one frame larvae and one frame capped. The hive already has a lot of hatched bees, so slowing the increase helps in overcrowding. Second week of May leave one more frame of eggs/larvae. Honey flow usually/may start the first part June and this gives the hive time to get population up again.
Heat often promotes and aggravates swarming, especially later in the year. Try placing #4 mesh screens over the inner cover holes and 1 blocks on each corner, or at least 2 corners of one end of the inner cover, then put the outer cover on. This gives some convection cooling to help cool the hive and speed the ripening of the nectar. This helps reduce the swarm drive. The reason for the screen over the inner cover hole is to stop other bees from robbing.

Queen Excluder

I was told to put a queen excluder under the bottom brood chamber to keep a swarm queen from leaving after capturing a swarm. That doesn't work! Why?

For a queen to fly she must not be laying eggs, whether she's old or new. If she can fly, she can go through a queen excluder slot. Refer to Q2. - the frame of brood or spraying the comb with sugar water or corn syrup may help keep bees in their new home. Give them food to keep them there till the queen is laying.


Where is the queen located within a swarm? If the swarm is located on a limb or some other thing that they are hanging from is she in the top or bottom half? Does anyone know?

From what I've could find out, no one knows. However, most think she' probably in the top 1/3. Brushing the swarm into a box may injure her and shaking them into the box may miss her. Using a vacuum set-up is probably the best, but impossible to do 20 feet in the air. If you do shake, knock the branch sharply upwards or shake side to side.


What is a winter cluster? What does it look like? What do they need for food supplies?

A winter cluster is the young bees that have been produced since Sept./Oct. and will live all winter as they aren't out bringing in pollen and nectar during the cold months. They are just normal looking bees who are clustered together a bit more than they are during warm/hot times. As for what they need in the way of food supply that depends on your location. Here, in Central Iowa, I would recommend 80-100 pounds of honey stored away. It depends on the winter if you can get by with less than 80 pounds. The more days the bees can be active and move around in the hive, the more food they consume, so a cold winter is easier on their food consumption. During late January and into February when we had warmer temperatures, it was a good time to check remaining supplies of feed and get food on them---if you have any live colonies.


I want to use powdered sugar dusting as a mite control this season, but think that dumping the used sugar and the mites that fall through a screen onto a corrugated board onto the ground is counter-productive. Wouldn't it make more sense to put it into a plastic bag to take home and dispose of? Wouldn't the mites just crawl back into the hive?

Some have done this and while dusting weekly or bi-weekly keeps mite levels down, it doesn't make them drop. If it doesn't drop the mite load, is it worthwhile doing? You'll just have to treat in the fall, but I can see where it could be beneficial during the summer if your mite load is high.
Note: Do not include any antibiotics in the powder sugar dusting as this kills up to 85% of the brood. (Editor's note: As of December 31, 2016, antibiotics are not obtainable for use in honeybees without contacting a licensed veterinarian under the Veterinary Food Directive of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This is intended to prevent development of antibiotic resistance transfer to people.)


I caught a swarm and that started me in keeping bees. I noticed that my overwintered colonies don't draw comb like that swarm did and I'm wondering why.

Comb drawing depends on a couple of main factors. One is availability of nectar--bees only swarm (usually) during a honey flow. Secondly it depends on the age of the bees. All bees can and will draw comb if necessary, but young bees can do it better. Their honey drawing glands are not as old and dried up as those in older bees. A swarm is comprised mostly of younger bees, so they can start the comb drawing process for the queen to start laying; the older bees that accompany the swarm bring in food to feed the new colony. This means as soon as the nectar flow starts in the spring you should be ready to start supering your hives with foundation--if you want comb drawn. There is nothing wrong with the older queens. It's the overwhelming number of young bees in the swarm that let it draw comb so well. The older queened colony may not be ready, numbers wise, or draw that much new comb,


I've always heard that swarm queens aren't any good; you need to use a supercedure queen or purchase one. Aren't all queens about the same? Why can't I use a swarm queen?

EMERGENCY QUEEN. The queen is gone and must be replaced NOW! The colony will use any egg or uncapped larvae to make a new queen. If that larvae have been fed the same food that is fed to worker and drones she will be an inferior queen. If started from an egg, she may be a good queen.
SUPERCEDURE QUEEN---The existing queen has been injured or is losing her pheromone strength and this tells the colony that she needs to be replaced. This may be a good queen if the colony started a new queen before the old one failed completely.
REPRODUCTIVE QUEEN---This is a new thought on queens, but the nature of all species is propagation and bees propagate by swarming. When the nectar flow starts and bee numbers increase the colony will start a few (3-6) swarm cells to create a new queen to start a new hive. These will probably be good queens if you catch them or removed the cells to start new colonies (nucs). These queens are usually better fed, better cared for and better mated.
OVERCROWDING QUEEN---This is the last step in propagation queen making. The colony is OVERCROWDED and makes numerous queens to be able to split and relieve crowding. It's gone beyond propagation. These queens may or may not be good, but we take them and start new colonies. If they aren't any good, we give them the glad hand shake and combine the remaining bees with a nuc that looks good.


Is there any way to save the bees from a drone-laying queen or queenless hive? I’ve not had good luck trying to dump the bees any distance away from a hive nor combing with a queen-rite colony.

A drone-laying queen is either an unmated virgin that missed her mating window due to bad weather or a lack of drones in the area or an old queen that has run out of semen.

Bee Removal

How do you get bees removed from an old cinder-block garage?

An 82-year-old gentleman called me on May 12th for assistance removing bees, but he didn't know if they had just moved in or been there for a while. He noticed a lot of bee activity the day before in the roof area of an old cinder block garage that had a tin roof with 2 x 6's on edge with a plywood roof with metal over that. The bees were coming and going at a good rate and some had even gotten into the house.


How should I clean beeswax?

The easiest method of cleaning wax is to buy a wax melter for several hundred dollars, and melt and re-melt the wax until it's clean. Here is the alternative:
Equipment needed:
*2 kettles, one slightly larger than the other
* Stirring sticks
*Metal trivet (canning jar rings work well)
*Clean plastic tub
*Screen sieve that fits over the clean plastic tub
* Hand-held screen sieve
* Paint scraper or similar tool
* Paper towels-Viva brand works best
*Soft water
* Old oven mitts and towels
DAY ONE: Fill the large kettle about half full of soft water then add well drained cappings. Heat the water until it just begins to boil while stirring occasionally. Turn heat down. Using the small hand-held sieve, scoop out as much floating debris as possible. Turn off heat and stir gently a few more times. Leave until tomorrow.
DAY 2: Remove wax from kettle. Do this outside to avoid clogging plumbing. Scrape slumgum from bottom of wax. Rinse wax well and leave to dry.
DAY 3: Put metal trivets and water in large kettle. Put wax in smaller kettle and set it in the metal trivets in the larger kettle. Heat water but keep it at a slow boil. Continue heating even after wax melts. The hotter the wax the thinner it becomes and the easier it flows through paper towels.
Line the sieve with paper towels. Set sieve on plastic tub. Pour very hot wax through lined sieve, changing paper towels as they clog with debris.
Note: If the wax is very dirty, the day one procedure can be repeated. Just remember, boil the water not the wax as it develops a condition called soaping which is a permanent foamy look. It can also develop that foamy look by attaching to the minerals in hard water, so it is necessary to use soft water.
Used paper towels can be cut into strips, rolled up and wrapped in tissue to be used as fire starters. They work better than kindling. They can also be sold by the bag as camping or cook out fire starters.


Is there any way to save the bees from a drone-laying queen or queenless hive? I've not had good luck trying to dump the bees any distance away from a hive nor combing with a queen-rite colony.

The way to tell if the queen has run out of semen or if you have laying workers is a drone-laying queen will affix the eggs to the bottom of the cell in a relative tight pattern while laying workers attach them to the side walls in a more scattered pattern.
The best method we've found is to look for the existing queen and kill her then split the frames of brood from the drone-laying colony among as many other colonies as you can while taking one frame from each of these colonies to make a new colony. Install a new queen, or if you don't have or can't get one, make sure there are eggs in the newly made colony. This usually works as you are spreading the laying workers out and making up a new colony with new bees just like making a split.


What uses can swarm, reproductive or supercedure queens be put to?

Background Information: Swarming is the propagation method of honey bees. They also make swarm cells when the queen is failing and needs to be replaced or when the colony is too crowded.
SUPERCEDURE QUEENS are produced when the old queen is worn out and not producing enough pheromone to keep the colony satisfied, is injured or killed. THIS IS AN EMERGENCY SITUATION FOR THE BEES. A supercedure cell will be drawn anywhere on the face of the comb the bees can find an egg of small larvae. The queen may or may not be made from young-enough egg/larvae to be good, and may lack the ability to be good.
SWARM QUEENS are made when the colony gets too crowded and the bees decide to split and make another colony. This means we lose that seasons production because of the time it takes for a new queen to hatch, mature, mate, and start laying eggs and for those eggs to hatch and become productive members of the colony. These queens can be very good because the bees plan these queens. Several years ago, it was believed swarm queens swarmed more often than purchased queens, but queen you make or buy or forced (the bees are required to make a new queen to continue the colony), and that's what swarm queens are, so that belief has fallen by the way-side.
NORMAL REPRODUCTIVE QUEENS are made from the urge of the colony to reproduce, and these queens are made from the best eggs/larvae in the colony. THEY ARE PLANNED!
Answer: Use them for whatever you want! If you don't want more colonies, reproductive or swarm queen cells can be cut off. If you know of someone who is looking to increase and you have the means to make new colonies (extra brood and bees) you can start a nuc and use for your own apiary or trade or sell to another beekeeper. If someone wants new blood in their operation, trade queen cells with them. New colonies made this time of year are very worthwhile and can be very productive.
Note: NEVER CUT OFF A SUPERSCEDURE QUEEN CELL!!! The old queen is likely dead and the bees are making an emergency queen.

Bee Removal

How do you get bees removed from an old cinder-block garage?

We drove over to see what was going on, and they were honey bees and they were active! When he had a second roof put on over the original plywood roof he had drilled 1 inch holes in the facia board for circulation.
Well, what could we do? He really didn't want the roof torn off, but there wasn't a way to put up a catcher hive as the bee's entrance was right over the entrance door into the house. We ended up stapling metal window screening over all 22 circulation holes and we hope that takes care of the bees. We also hope they haven't been there long enough to store lots of honey and make a mess.
This situation indicates to me the bees are probably swarming here in central Marshall County, and I sure hope our queens arrive next week instead of in 2 weeks!


I'm gathering information on growing from being a hobby beekeeper to a sideline beekeeper next year. What information can you give me ---where to look, how to succeed, etc.?

A beekeeper with under 200 hives is considered a hobbyist. 200-500 hives is sideline and 500+ hives makes you a commercial beekeeper. One of the most important considerations is TIME. It becomes your asset. There are most certainly other considerations. but time MUST be budgeted more efficiently to run 200 hives instead of 20 hives. It becomes a more precious commodity. Instead of inspecting every colony weekly or every other week, you will only be able to inspect them thoroughly 2-3 times in the spring, then super them up and hope for the best till you remove the supers. Getting knowledge can be in the form of books from the library, attending meetings and speaking with other beekeepers, working with a larger beekeeping operation to get an idea of what's going to happen, but if you're ready to go from hobby to sideline, you probably know enough to get by. There are other considerations, but another important one is LOCATION. What may support 2-10 colonies when you have 20-30 colonies, may not support 50 when you have 200+, and the more colonies you can get in a yard the less TIME you spend traveling from yard to yard. One thing many do not take into consideration is keeping your equipment in good working order.
Poorly maintained equipment creates inefficiencies when you are in the field taking care of your colonies.


I've been keeping bees without chemicals or other manipulations believing this will help my bees to develop, over time, resistance to mites. This is my third year of such beekeeping and I fear they are over the threshold and will all perish this winter. I want to treat, but have sworn not to. I sure could use some kind words.

If you have a child or a pet that is ill, do you not take him or her for treatment? There are some non-chemical treatments that help, but none resulting a 90%+ kill rate of mites. Screened bottom boards allow 5-20% of mites to drop to the ground. Dusting routinely with powdered sugar increases this rate to about 50%. Getting the most hygienic bee strain will also help. Two other methods I've heard about is smoking the hive with Sumac and using Oxalic Acid vaporizer both methods are a least invasive treatment. You have accepted the husbandry of your bees and must treat them to the best of your ability, which means treating for mites, etc. Your treatment should be investigated to the best of your ability and use the least invasive one, but TREAT in one way or another. Food grade mineral oil, screened bottom boards, essential oils, home grown resistant queens, menthol cough drops and more have been tried and help, but don't manage the situation entirely.


If the goal is to let the bees evolve until they are mite resistant, aren't you slowing the process by saving bees that would otherwise perish without treatments? Wouldn't it be better to let the inferior bees and their mite loads perish?

Letting the bees perish might help in the rapidity of evolution/resistance to mites, but as a colony crashes the mites don't all die too. Remember they get off bees onto flowers waiting for a new host to latch onto. Bees from a dying colony drift to another colony and infect it as well, thereby causing another hive infection. Eventually all bees could well die before they evolve to become mite resistant. Few of our mellifera colonies have evolved a grooming habit strong enough to survive if left alone. At the present time, unassisted hives die. Resistant or behavioral changes come in steps and it takes several mutations to achieve, so we need to help those colonies that are on the way, but not there yet.


I've only got 3 colonies, not enough to invest in an extractor or wax melter for myself. How can I melt old combs and what can I do with it?

One way to melt your old combs is to use an old slow cooker. Put in 1-2 inches of water and add wax pieces you've cut out of the frames. Heat to melt the wax, then turn down to a medium or low heat. You want to melt the wax, not boil the water. Check every 3-5 hours, but don't leave the unit alone all day while you go to work. When melted, pour into mini loaf pans for reuse or sale. Output isn't high, but neither is the chance of flare up.
Another method is to use a stainless-steel double boiler to keep the wax away from direct heat.
Remember, once you use a pan for wax, it's VERY difficult to get all the wax out of it to use for other (food) purposes. This dark wax is good for dark (green) candles, shoe polish, gun protection, leather protection, lubricating a hinge or other crafts where white wax isn't necessary.


Is it safe to use roundup around beehives? I've been told yes and I've been told no.

Roundup is an herbicide (weed killer) and as such should be safe to use AROUND bees. I'd make sure not to get it into the colony, but as far as being bad for bees, I really don't know.


If I feel I should supplement feed my colonies to ensure winter survival, how much, when and how?

Obviously this is dependent on location and how harsh your winter usually is in your area. It also depends on if you’re feeding honey , sugar syrup or corn syrup. Here, in central Iowa it is recommended that colonies have at least 60 pounds of honey left on them as food. Many think this is not enough and say 90-100 pounds is much better. Some falls have a good honey flow and some have almost none. Getting the honey off your colonies before Sept. 1 means you will have to feel them less.
A 2:1 ratio of sugar to water is best for fall feeding. If feeding corn syrup ask you supplier if he’s added water and how much. Straight corn syrup needs about 1 gallon water to 4-5 gallon corn syrup or it will sugar too fast. (Spring ratio of sugar/water is 1 to 1.)
As for how---you can open container out of a barrel or bucket, but this draws other bugs, coons, possums, etc. You can use an entrance feeder in the fall , but bees will not come down to it in the spring. A hive top feeder bucket or container works best. You can see how fast they are taking the food just by lifting the outer cover is there is a box around the bucket.
As for when to feed----when you pull the honey crop, check the frames in the top brood chamber. If they aren’t full feed. They will take food till it gets too cold to break cluster. We used to feed 100-150 colonies in an urban setting with hive top buckets.


My electric uncapping knife overheats. Do I have to get a new one and where?

No you don’t have to get a new one. Ours overheats also and we went to an electrical contractor and had them make us a foot pedal to use. It’s just like for a sewing machine, but will require a heavier duty foot pedal and cord. Step on the pedal, the knife heats, life your foot an the power is cut to the knife.
When the knife does finally quit working, get another knife for the CIBA auction from someone who doesn’t know this trick. Or is you want to get a new one, any beekeping supply catalog has them in it.


What’s the difference between nurse, guard, and field bees, and how can I tell them apart?

A bee goes through several stages in it’s life. A newly hatched bee will feed and orientate itself to the hive, then begin cleaning the cells and taking nectar and pollen from returning field force bees. Then comes caring for the queen then guard bees and finally field force bees before quietly leaving the hive to die. They all look the same, except for the newly hatched bees. They’re fuzzy looking.

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