Category Archives: Education

Seven ways to help pollinators (especially honey bees) by thinking Slow-Mow May

By now most people have heard of No Mow May as way to help pollinators. However, the idea has not gained widespread acceptance due to most folks obsession with keeping a manicured, cut short, grassy lawn. The Brown County Beekeepers would like to encourage everyone to think “Slow-Mow May” instead. What does this mean you ask? Well, if you normally mow every few days – take an additional 2 or 3 days between mowing and put your mower on a higher setting. This allows more dandelions to grow (early food for honey bees) and keeps more ground cover in place for the ground hibernating pollinators that have not yet emerged.

Pollinators like native bees, moths, butterflies, beetles and wasps are hibernating in our gardens and landscapes. There are also other critters and insects (i.e. fireflies and amphibians) using our landscape as habitat. Loss of habitat is one of the primary reasons for declining insect and pollinator populations.

And don’t just stop helping pollinators in May. Here are steps that can be taken year round.

Not too EARLY – to help hibernating pollinators and other insects and amphibians, wait
until there is a steady temperature of 50 degrees to begin spring mowing and clean up. They are still hibernating in your garden.

Leave the leaves! If you can’t bring yourself to turn your entire yard into pollinator friendly plantings – think about converting just a portion of your yard. Maybe that spot that is mainly out of sight? Every little bit helps! Remember leaves provide critical habitat to over wintering pollinators (bees, moths, butterflies, caterpillars) and other creatures. They are also a natural mulch, supplying vital nutrients back to the soil. If you feel you need to rake, be gentle and rake leaves into garden beds where they will help to hold the moisture and reduce weeds.

Don’t cut stems and stalks – Some native bees hibernate in the pithy stems and stalks. When tidying up your garden, consider leaving stems and stalks as is, OR if cutting back, leave about 15 inches standing. This will allow new plant growth to grow up and over old stems. Previous years stems serve as valuable nesting sites for native bees. By maintaining these stems, you’re providing essential habitat for these important pollinators. Lastly, don’t burn or toss those cut stems!! While some native bees may have emerged already, other species emerge later in the spring/summer. Instead, loosely pile or gently rake material and set aside so they can emerge at a later date.

“If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.”

— E. O. Wilson An American Biologist and Naturalist, considered one of the greatest natural scientists of our time.

Avoid Using Pesticides – Bees are our most important pollinators, and they are insects. So are butterflies like the monarch. Using insecticides will kill these insects. Herbicides will kill important native plants such as milkweed that pollinators rely upon as a food source and a place to raise young. Make the commitment to avoid using chemicals and to maintain your garden in a natural, organic way. Although we encourage people to go herbicides, fungicides, insecticides and rodenticides free, if there are any questions about what you are using in their yards and gardens, you can look it up here: https://ipm.ucanr.edu/bee-precaution-pesticide-ratings/

Plant for Pollinators – Plant in clusters to create a “target’ for pollinators to find and plant for continuous bloom throughout the growing season from spring to fall. For assistance in planning your garden for Northeast Wisconsin visit the Wisconsin Conservation organization site. A useful guide to native Wisconsin plants are are helpful for pollinators can be found here.

Provide Water – Bees are thirsty. In fact, on hot days, bees cease all foraging except for water. If you notice bees visiting your garden often, put out a water source for them, like a decorative fountain, a bird feeder, or a birdbath. But make sure there’s a landing spot for them — they don’t like to get their feet wet, so they need pebbles, twigs, or trim to land on while they sip.

Go Organic – Beyond your garden, go organic in as many ways possible – such as buying organic products and food. Supporting sustainable, pollinator-friendly farms keeps them in business – and the bees and pollinators safe! Don’t forget to hit up your local Farmer’s Market too. Even if they are not “certified” organic, many small local farms are much more cautious about pesticide use. Furthermore, buying organic goods lessens the demand for conventional (toxic) products. This is better for everyone and everything, including your personal health.

Introduction to Beekeeping – Basics For Someone New to Bees

Bee Biology by Sara and Dave

The Brown County Beekeepers Association is happy to present INTRODUCTION TO BEEKEEPING. Learn the essentials of beginning beekeeping!! The class will be presented in three sessions described below.

When:
Prior to January 13th, 2024 — view three videos to prepare for the in person class. No more than 2 hours of video to watch
January 13th, 2024 — 8:00am to 2:00pm (in-person, location: Great Lakes Energy Education Center on the campus of NWTC, Rooms EE201/202)
and May 18th, 2024 8:00am to 10:00am (at the hive, location: Green Bay Botanical Gardens). Click for a map to the location.

How Much:
$50 for an individual, $40 for additional family members

What: Attendees will gain an understanding of:

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My Bees Want to Swarm, What Can I Do?

Swarms are the normal, natural and healthy reproduction of a honey bee colony.
They are colony-level reproduction vs individual honey bee. It’s an important part
of the colony life cycle and it’s how honey bees procreate.

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Parasites, Diseases, and Viruses, Oh My! Now What?

Tracheal Mites live in the bee’s respiratory system and have become less of a problem with the use formic acid and thymol based treatments for control of Varroa Destructor Mite. These treatments are also effective in treating the tracheal mite, mostly eliminating them. Symptoms include: bees appearing to be disoriented, unable to fly and disjointed wings. Bees are unable to get out to forage, leading to a large number of bees found throughout the day at the hive.

Nosema weakens the immune system of the honeybee leading to increased colony death. It is a problem in winter because bees are not getting out of the hive often to defecate, increasing the risk of spread within the colony. You may see LOTS of bee poop all over your boxes. Don’t confuse normal cleaning flights with Nosema. To prevent Nosema keep your colony strong and healthy, replace old comb and make sure there is good drainage and ventilation in your bee yard. Find more information here.

Diseases

American Foul Brood (AFB): AFB is extremely contagious. Spores contaminate a hives by drift, robbing, tainted equipment/ tools. They infect and destroy larvae and once the cells are capped larvae turn brown. You will note a rancid smell, spotty brood pattern and sunken perforated cappings; inside the cell you would find melted looking brown remains of the larvae. You can check for suspected AFB by sticking a toothpick into a cell and stir the larva and pull the toothpick out. If it has a ropey appearance, more than 2 cm there is a good chance it is AFB. Because of the infectious nature it is recommended that all equipment be burned or wooden ware be scorched to disinfect before using again. AFB must be reported to the state inspector. More in depth information can be found here.

Viruses

Sacbrood Virus (SBV) can be seen and easier to identify. Capped brood will have pin sized holes in it. Pupae have underdeveloped heads. The infected larvae will die and become dark and brittle. It will be easy to remove from the cells. SBV is transmitted via contaminated food, feces or during mating. You can try removing infected larvae and re-queening but as of today there are no known treatments to get rid of SBV directly.

Deformed Wing Virus (DWV) can be seen as well and looks as the name describes. Adult bees infected with the virus show no visual signs. It is the most common virus found in a colony and is transmitted by the varroa mite. The bees are unable to perform hive duties or forage and the bees do not survive long. It is transmitted by contaminated food, feces or during mating. The queen can pass the virus to her offspring. Prevention and treatment is mite management.

So you want to install a package of honey bees?

What is a BEE NUC and what is a BEE PACKAGE?

A bee nuc (nuc is short for nucleus) is a small colony made up of bees taken from a larger colony. It’s normally sold in a box with five frames standing side by side. A couple of those frames usually already have honey stores.

A bee package is typically sold in wooden frame boxes with screens on two sides. They are sold by the pound, and it takes approximately 3,500 bees to make a pound. A three-pound package, therefore, contains about 10,000 bees.

Inside a bee package is a can full of a sugar syrup mixture. The bees feed from this during transport. Bee packages can be mailed to you via USPS.  Each package also contains its own small wooden box covered on one side by a screen. This tiny box holds the queen and a few worker bees to tend her.

The Differences

Bees in a package can come from different hives. The bees in a nuc are generally from the same colony. Bee packages also tend to be less expensive than nucs. However, with a package, you’ll need to build the colony by transitioning the bees into your existing hives. This requires a greater education in beekeeping. For that reason, using nucs is typically less stressful than using packages.

Which one should you get?

Beginners would do well to begin with a 5-frame nuc rather than a 3-pound package of bees.   If you are a beginner, starting with an already established colony is going to increase your success rate immediately.  Beekeeping has a huge learning curve. Starting with a 3-pound package introduces a whole new set of elements that you have to learn before you start keeping bees.

Not only are you new at this but now your package bees are starting from scratch too. They have no foundation, no comb, no brood, no nectar and no pollen. And although you have a mated queen in a cage, she’s technically not laying because she has nowhere to lay yet. A nuc already comes with all of those elements.

So you’ve got your honey bee package, now what?

A few things before talking about installing your bees.   

  • Make sure your bee yard is all set up and your equipment is ready to go.
  • Make sure you have prepared 1:1 sugar water.
  • Pick up your bees with your bee suit and gloves handy. Most likely thousands of bees will be flying around.
  • Install your bees on the same day as pickup, if at all possible. However, a couple day delay will not harm your bees.
  • Secure your bees before transport. Recommend placing a mesh bag around the bees and use duct tape to ensure the cover can’t come off during transport.  In the event you had an accident you don’t want bees to be flying around in a vehicle to make matters worse.

Installing a Package into the Hive

  • Place an entrance reducer on hive opening.
  • Remove 5-6 Frames from hive box where you will be installing the new bees.
  • Remove the cover over the hole in the top of the cage and place it to the side.
  • Spray the package with sugar water.
  • One shake to cause the bees to fall to the bottom of the cage.
  • Remove the syrup can from the package and queen cage, cover opening with the cover you just removed.
  • Check the queen cage to make sure your queen is alive and well.   
  • Remove the cork, cap, and/or metal cover from the end of the queen cage.  Do not remove the candy.
  • You will find white candy separating the queen from the hole.
  • Poke a hole in the candy (use a paperclip or small nail).   Make sure you don’t harm the queen.
  • Place the queen in a safe location out of the sun.  We often put her in our jacket or shirt pocket if it is cool.
  • Place the queen cage between two middle frames at the top of the frames.  We like to use a paperclip to hold the queen cage in place so she doesn’t fall to the bottom of the box. (The Candy side should up)
  • The bees must become acquainted with the queen before she is released (bees will eat through the candy in order to release her once she is accepted). This can take several days.
  • Remove cover from package.
  • Shake bees into the gap in brood box.
  • Replace the previously removed frames – Gently. The bees will move out of the way.
  • Place the mostly empty container in front of hive and the remaining bees will work themselves into the hive.
  • Feed the bees with a 1 x 1 sugar syrup.
  • Put on the inside cover and place the telescoping cover on top with extra weights if you use them.
  • Remember to come back in 2-3 days to make sure the queen is out of the cage. If she is still in the cage, release her.
  • If it is very cold when you get your bees you can use the No Shake Method as discussed in the video.

Want to know how to install a Nuc of bees?

What is a BEE NUC and what is a BEE PACKAGE?

A bee nuc (nuc is short for nucleus) is a small colony made up of bees taken from a larger colony. It’s normally sold in a box with five frames standing side by side. A couple of those frames usually already have honey stores.

A bee package is typically sold in wooden frame boxes with screens on two sides. They are sold by the pound, and it takes approximately 3,500 bees to make a pound. A three-pound package, therefore, contains about 10,000 bees.

Inside a bee package is a can full of a sugar syrup mixture. The bees feed from this during transport. Bee packages can be mailed to you via USPS.  Each package also contains its own small wooden box covered on one side by a screen. This tiny box holds the queen and a few worker bees to tend her.

The Differences

Bees in a package can come from different hives. The bees in a nuc are generally from the same colony. Bee packages also tend to be less expensive than nucs. However, with a package, you’ll need to build the colony by transitioning the bees into your existing hives. This requires a greater education in beekeeping. For that reason, using nucs is typically less stressful than using packages.

Which one should you get?

Beginners would do well to begin with a 5-frame nuc rather than a 3-pound package of bees.   If you are a beginner, starting with an already established colony is going to increase your success rate immediately.  Beekeeping has a huge learning curve. Starting with a 3-pound package introduces a whole new set of elements that you have to learn before you start keeping bees.

Not only are you new at this but now your package bees are starting from scratch too. They have no foundation, no comb, no brood, no nectar and no pollen. And although you have a mated queen in a cage, she’s technically not laying because she has nowhere to lay yet. A nuc already comes with all of those elements.

So you’ve got your nuc, now what?

  • Place an entrance reducer on hive opening.
  • Open the nuc hive and gently smoke your bees.
  • Remove 6 frames from your bottom deep so you have room to place the nuc frames in the deep. You removed one additional frame to provide some space to more easily slide your frames of bees into the box.
  • Transfer frames of bees from the nuc to the middle of your hive in the same order as in the nuc.   Gently place a frame of bees in a box without rolling them against bees on another frame by putting the frame in an open space and then using your hive tool to gently push the frame next to the already in the box.   
  • Gently place the last frames at the outside of the box.   
  • Place the container next to the hive entrance and any remaining bees will work themselves into the hive.
  • Feed the bees until the bees have drawn out all the frames of foundation.
Nuc loaded with bees sitting on top of a hive.
Bees installed from a nuc with the empty nuc next to it.

Lighting and Using a Smoker

Why use a smoker?

The use of smoke causes to things to happen, both of which are beneficial to the beekeeper. First, the smoke masks the alarm scent bees emit to warm other bees about dangers to the hive (like a human taking the roof off their house). Without the warning bees will be less defensive. The second thing smoke does is make the bees believe there is a fire nearby and that the hive may be in danger. The response in the bees to go gorge on honey, as they may have to fly away and create a new home somewhere else. So a number of the bees are busy eating honey and less defensive.

What can be used a smoker fuel?

There are many types of fuel that can be used in your smoker. Here in Northeast Wisconsin there is an abundance of fallen pine needles which work very well. Other materials include pine cones, newspaper, cardboard, pelleted fuel, cotton waste, etc.. You can use pretty much anything that is combustible. Just don’t use anything that might be toxic-to you or your bees.

How does one light a smoker?

First, gather your materials. The smoker, an ignition source, flammable materials, hive tool, and fire extinguisher or water. Start by lighting something easy, like balled up newspaper or a used egg carton. Put it in the smoker and give it a few puffs. When it is burning well add more materials over it (pine needles, pellets, etc) and give it a few more puffs to get the material lite. Use you hive tool to gently press the materials down in the smoker. This packs the materials for a longer burn and can sterilize the hive tool if hot enough. Add more materials, pack, add more materials until full-all the while puffing away to ensure it stays lit. You are looking for a cool, white smoke and, for sure, no flames or embers flying out the nozzle which could injure your bees or start a fire.

So now, how does one use the smoker?

Start by giving a few puffs at the entrance to the hive. Remove the top cover and give a couple of puffs through the hole in the inner cover. Crack the inner cover and give a few more puffs. That should be sufficient to initially open the hive. Smoke the bees again if they are getting aggressive or the sound changes. There are times when the bees are just all wound up and no amount of smoke will calm them down. In that case, it is best to put the hive back together and come back another day

An article that is a bit more in depth on smoking bees.

A cursory overview of using a smoker from Mann Lake.

Using smoker in Kenya – almost identical to using it in Northeast WI.

Preparing for Winter

At the September club meeting, which was held both in person (socially distanced) and virtually, Richard Schneider from Capital Bee Supply was our remote guest speaker. He did an excellent job presenting the steps beekeepers can take to get ready for our Wisconsin winters. Capital Bee Supply is a Wisconsin based company out of Columbus, WI. The YouTube presentation is presented below. It is 57 minutes in length.

If you would like to see these presentations live or in person you should consider joining the club.

Mite Management

At the May 2020 meeting of the club April Kustov, Wisconsin State Apiary Inspector joined our meeting via Zoom to present Mite Management. The video is over an hour long but is very comprehensive about mite management and treatments.

In the video April refers to different mite treatments and the Wisconsin recommended treatments. Here is the sheet to which she refers. If you would like the Power Point presentation click here. You will need Power Point to view the slides.

BCBA Educational posters now available

BCBA now has educational posters available for club events or programs. These posters cover important topics such as whats in the bee hive, bee anatomy, how honey is made and the life cycle of bees. Other posters available cover basic pollinators and seeds and endangered pollinators. These posters will make it fun and easy for us as we explain the importance of bees and bee biology.