This time of year, experienced and new beekeepers are receiving their packaged bees and nucs. Only a few of these packages and nucs are going home to new equipment. Many will go home to equipment left over from last year's failed colonies. Is it safe...
This time of year, experienced and new beekeepers are receiving their packaged bees and nucs. Only a few of these packages and nucs are going home to new equipment. Many will go home to equipment left over from last year's failed colonies. Is it safe to use this equipment?
In this episode, Jeff Ott (from Beekeeping Today Podcast) fills in for Kim Flottum and asks Jim, can he use his old equipment. What about the old honey? Will it hurt if the honey is fermenting or crystallized? What about mold? Dead bee carcasses - are they a problem? Can you reuse old brood comb? What about diseases or pesticides or old pupae casings?
Jim's answers may surprise you.
Did you buy packages or nucs this year? How many? How did you hive them? Did you use new or old equipment? Let us know in the comments section of this episode! Start a discussion.
If you like the episode, share it with a fellow beekeepers and/or let us know by leaving a comment in the show notes. We'd love to hear from you!
Thanks to Betterbee for sponsoring today's episode. Betterbee’s mission is to support every beekeeper with excellent customer www.betterbee.comservice, continued education and quality equipment. From their colorful and informative catalog to their support of beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast series, Betterbee truly is Beekeepers Serving Beekeepers. See for yourself at
Honey Bee Obscura is brought to you by Growing Planet Media, LLC, the home of Beekeeping Today Podcast.
Music: Heart & Soul by Gyom, Walking in Paris by Studio Le Bus, original guitar music by Jeffrey Ott
Copyright © 2022 by Growing Planet Media, LLC
Jeff Ott: Hey, Jim, I'm getting a bunch of packages this weekend. I was hoping you could give me some pointers on putting them into dead-out equipment.
Jim Tew: Unfortunately, I'm pretty good at that, Jeff. I know a lot about dead-outs and a lot about replacement packages. Let me tell you, here in Ohio, you're right on schedule because there's snow and freezing rain coming down, so it's a great day to be getting packages.
Jeff: True. Well, fortunately, here in the Pacific Northwest, we are going to have a fairly decent day, and so I'm looking forward to it. It's good timing this year.
Jim: Well, I want to talk about this with you as much as now. I'm Jim Tew.
Jeff: I'm Jeff Ott pinching for Kim Flottum one more week.
Jim: We're coming with talk to you on Honey Bee Obscura, we talk all things beekeeping once a week or so. Today we want to see if we can figure out what Jeff's, and to some extent, what I can do with our dead equipment to get it ready to put bees back on it.
Introduction: You are listening to Honey Bee Obscura brought to you by Growing Planet Media, the folks behind Beekeeping Today Podcast. Each week on Honey Bee Obscura, hosts Kim Flottum and Jim Tew explore the complexities, the beauty, the fun, and the challenges of managing honey bees in today's world and engaging an informative discussion meant for all beekeepers, long-timers and those just starting their journey with bees. Sit back and enjoy the next several minutes as Kim and Jim explore all things honey bees.
Jim: Jeff, it's a important to know exactly what have you got? What kind of dead-out? What kind of equipment? What's the situation? Is it terrible or just bad?
Jeff: [chuckles] Well, it's never good. The dead-out or my colonies from last year, they didn't make it through the winter, whether they died during the fall or during the winter. I was able to go out to them in January, I think when it was freezing cold outside. I knew they were dead and I cleaned them out at that time. I know that they're dead completely. I've already removed all the dead bees from them and they've been sitting there ever since. It's eight frame equipment, full deeps on hive bodies and no honey supers, fairly clean equipment. That's what I have.
Jim: That is pretty typical, isn't it? Number one, let me say this point-blank to you and all the listeners. This is just you and me talking. Everything we talk about is going to be variation on a theme, but if you went out in January and you cleaned the bees out, what does that mean? Did you just pour the dead bees off the bottom board or did you bang the bees that were stuck in the comb? Did you bang the combs and lock the bees out of it?
Jeff: Good question, because in prior years, I know that if you wait till March or April to clean the bees out, they become a big moldy mess, green, gray, white moldy mess, and that's horrible and it's heartbreaking. I wanted to get to them before that got to that stage. I took out each frame one by one, took it way out in the field, shook it off, cleaned it off. I had a bee brush and I brushed off what I could and put it back in the box and did it that way.
Jim: Well, that sounds pretty typical. You mentioned the mold, and the mold is always frightening. I've done this for a long time. Unfortunately, I've seen my share of dead bees. That mold is always overwhelming. You think, "Well, this has got to be a disease pathogen, this has just got to be chalkbrood." Especially as you are a beekeeper, you rattle these things off, but apparently, Jeff, that mold is other than just being innocuous and indicating that there's too much moisture and there's decay going on. It's not thought to harbor some pathogen.
If Kim were here, he'd be arguing now that you shouldn't be using that comb, you shouldn't be throwing comb away. He's right and he's wrong, but how hard is the comb? Is it comb worth using, worth reusing? Looks like it's pretty healthy. Make a decision right then before you reinvest another season in comb that should be discarded.
Jeff: Well, yes, and that was a big point of using the dead-out equipment, is that I don't want the bees to expend all the energy drawing out new foundation. I'd like the queen to get right to work so that, if that's even possible, they might get a honey crop, a small one.
Jim: Aren't you just an old man? Yes. Those of us who were taught to keep bees before varroa want to reuse that comb because that was a big selling point. That comb is reusable. You don't have to have the bees invest all that honey in comb production because they're reusing the old comb. It was been very bitter for me to have to accept the fact that that comb does have a natural life. If you're a really great beekeeper on annoyingly dependable schedule, you take out perfectly usable comb and let the bees replace it. Right off the bat, is this comb you want to use again for not? I would go, "Yes. Let's use some comb again."
Jeff: Yes. Sometimes you read all the literature and you listen to people talk and you start having nightmares about all the potential bugaboos and pathogens and pesticides and everything else that might be in that wax. It scares you to pieces, but I want to reuse it. It looks fairly clean, it's not real dark. That's not full of old pupae cases and everything else, so yes, I'm going to reuse it.
Jim: Yes. Well, I'm with you on that. I'm going to get my thoughts together, and while you and I both do that, let's take a moment and hear from the folks who helps us pay the bill.
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Jim: One of the important things, Jeff, that I wonder about is, do you have any honey at all? Since you want to have the bees get right to work, you said, how are you going to feed those packages?
Jeff: All of the dead-outs are two-story hive boxes, brew chambers, and yes, there's honey in every one of them. The lower ones, if I put them back together in the way I pulled them apart have less honey than the ones on top. The ones on top are heavy with honey. Some of it's capped, some of it may not be so capped, some of the boxes smell like it's good, there's no smell, and other smell like maybe it's fermenting or something, there's a sour smell to it. I need to start thinking about that.
Jim: Well, I've tried to come up with an idiom for saying that efficient beekeeping approach is sloppiness, but that doesn't sound right, that doesn't read right. When are you efficient and when are you sloppy? Like you, I've had honey several last seasons, because when my bees die from varroa predation in the winter, it's a clean kill. Just a bunch of dead bees and there's no real mess there. What do with that honey?
I want to be very careful now, Jeff and listeners, don't go crazy with this, but bees can take remarkably solid or unsightly honey and work miracles with it. They can reclaim it, recover it, reconstitute it, process it. The advantage to that is in the right format, if I could use that word incorrectly, it's in the right place, it's in comb. If you've got honey to put back on to give them, they will do a quick job of cleaning that up.
Jeff: Yes, and that's been my experience in the past, but just always looking for a better way of doing things to make sure I put the bees in the best position possible so that they make it through the season. I'd rather have to deal with swarms than feeding a new package at the beginning of it.
Jim: It may not sound like it to the listeners, but you and I at this point are thousands of miles apart. Are you expecting bad weather tomorrow and Sunday when you put these bees in?
Jeff: Fortunately, no. According to the little weather app, it's supposed to be a fairly decent day, so I'll be lucky.
Jim: That will be to your advantage. If you've got this bit of honey, you can give them, and at the same time, can give them enough drawn comb that the queen, so that you can release her to put them out there. One other things you're going to have to decide now is how much foundation you're going to put in or are you going to go all drawn comb. Those are all your call, that's all your decision. After you decide what you're going to keep, the comb and what you're going to have the bees rebuild, then you've got the bees that you're going to put on tomorrow. The equipment is all assembled, everything's good to go, so this time you're going to get it right, hope springs eternal, right?
Jeff: [chuckles] That's right.
Jim: Even though you hoped about this very colony a year ago, it didn't work, but now we have fresh hope and we're going to try again. What I'd like to ask you is what will be your varroa control program? Do you think these packages are already treated safely enough? Just you as an individual beekeeper, what are you going to do with these packages and varroa?
Jeff: They always tell you, whether buying a nuc or a package, "Yes, they've been treated." I'm more of a suspicious kind of guy and that's more trust, but verify or-- I stumble on this, obviously, and I'm doing it right now. I tend to end up treating them on my equipment. That way I know for sure when they've been treated and the date they've been treated and how they've been treated.
I will treat them with oxalic acid. In the past, the packages, I've treated them with oxalic acid, mixed into sugar. I've sprayed them with one with sugar and then I do one with the oxalic acid and sugar to treat them in the package while all the mites are just traveling on their bodies. I've also have treated them vaporizing the oxalic acid once they've been hived.
Jim: I am so relieved to have you stumble because now it's my turn to stumble. This is really an uncertain topic area. It's uncertain even for colonies that overwintered. My bees right here, right now, the ones that overwintered, and you say, "Well, I should go treat those bees." In all cases, do no harm. If they got through the winter, does that mean that their varroa load is okay and do you still go out there and fix it? If they got through the winter and you think, "Well, they did something right, so let this get more into the season before I start treating."
There's always that feeling of insecurity and uncertainness about exactly what to do. Then you get these packages and the first thing you're going to do is expose them to some toxin to lock the varroa mites off. You want to do the right thing. It's hard to tell what the right thing is. I would probably treat them, but I would do it with my heart and my throat. I wouldn't treat them until the queen was released. I don't know why. What's your guest on that? Would you treat them with the queen confined?
Jeff: Well, I'll probably be wrong, [chuckles] but I would treat them with the queen confined. I don't see any reason why not to. I'd like to treat them before she starts laying, and especially, obviously, before any brood is capped. I don't see a reason why it would make a difference, queen confined or not confined.
Jim: OK. Shoot a hole in this. Maybe since there's just two of us talking, I'll take the other tact. For no particular reason, I would say I would release the queen. The only reason I can think of as you and I talk would be if something is not right with my treatment, that in theory, the queen could move to a more tolerable part of the hive, but that's me grasping at anything right here because I don't really know what to do with these packages. Do you just take them and put them out and then wait till summer and treat them then or do you try to get off to a good start? I don't know that there's a right answer.
Jeff: I'm sure our listeners might and we'd be interested to hear what you, the listener, like to do in the comments section on the show notes, so let us know because Jim and I obviously are struggling with this.
Jim: I am struggling. I am struggling.
Jeff: Let me ask one more question. This one, I don't have a solid foundation on, is do you, with a package, prefer to put a second hive body on right away if it has honey and open comb in it or do you put that package and leave him in a single hive body till they get established? I've done it both ways and I wish I could settle on something, but I can't.
Jim: When you say both ways, there's even more ways than that. You can put them in a nuc.
Jeff: [chuckles] Yes.
Jim: You've got all kinds of options. I tend to put them in the least amount of equipment that they can handle. If I've got honey to give them, I want the honey right there beside this empty brood frame or two. Most of my packages, after I've installed them are just single deeps. If there's some reason I may have an empty shell up top, I may have a feeder inside an empty shell, and outwardly it might look like two deeps, but actually, it's empty up top.
I only do that because I have some notion, some faint idea that bees swarm cluster needs to approximate the cavity size. You wouldn't normally put three pounds of bees in something the size of a 55-gallon drum. I don't know what those dimensions are, I don't know what the relativity is, so hesitating again, I would probably just keep them in the least amount of equipment.
Number one, that's the least amount of work for me. Number two is just less at the bees have to maintain. In fact, it's really off the subject, it has nothing to do with using dead-out equipment. There's these devices that you can get at various bee supply companies, and I think ours, the sponsor may be one of them, that's called a follower board. It's like a partition. You can actually partition off the inside of the hive body so that maybe it only has three or four frames in it. If you're a big proponent of the cluster fitting the space, you can actually modify the equipment.
Jeff: Boy, we started this episode and I thought I'd have answers, but now I just have more questions.
Jim: I know what I would do. Why have I struggled the whole time with this, Jeff? This is pretty straight forward. You got a package, put the package in, make sure they got honey. treat for mites, don't bother them, make sure the queen is out and you'll be fine.
Jeff: That's right.
Jim: Why is it taking us 20 minutes of struggling to explain that it's not really that clear? You've got a lot of options you can do here. You paid a lot of money for these packages. It's going to be really hard to replace that queen if you don't get her introduced right. You want to have a notion that what you're doing is the right thing to do. The right thing to do is not the right thing in every instance.
Jeff: That's the joy of beekeeping.
Jim: The joy?
Jim: Let me think what word I would have used there.
Jeff: We wouldn't have been doing it for this long if it was dig and ditches.
Jim: Let me tell all the listeners this, though, it's that time of the year. It is springtime, packages and nucs are coming in. There's hope for the season. There's rebirth for the spring. This is a good time of the year for beekeeping, so do something, control mites, feed them, be sure the queen is out, and I bet you they'll be okay.
Jeff: I'll let you know how it goes after I got them all hived.
Jim: All right. Jeff, as usual, I want to thank all the people who listened to us struggle with this. I appreciate them. If you're still listening, you're tough, you're tough. Good luck with that. I always enjoy talking to you, Jeff.
Jeff: All right. Thanks, Jim. I appreciate it. I've enjoyed the last couple of weeks being on, but I know we're looking forward to having Kim back as well.
Jim: Okay. Take care.
[00:18:58] [END OF AUDIO]