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  • The Fight Against The Destructive Varroa Mite

    Editor's Note: The Valley Hive would like to commend Madison on a job well done. The varroa mite is a very difficult subject to write about. Madison took a very complex topic and created an informative, easy to read article, that will surely benefit any beekeeper who take the time to read it.

    By Madison Newman

    Varrowhat?varroa mite

    I am about to type two words that may induce a hysterical episode for many of you: varroa mites. Take a few moments to collect yourself, because I understand that these worrisome external parasites can produce a number of responses among beekeepers. Terror, shock, confusion, and annoyance seem to be a fairly common reaction throughout the beekeeping community. For newbees and experienced beekeepers alike, the varroa mite is no laughing matter. Varroa Destructor originated from Asia (thanks a lot Asia), and managed to make its way to all parts of the world with the exception of certain Hawaiian islands, and Australia. Unfortunately, I have no desire to live in Australia, and I am not financially stable enough to reside in Hawaii. So I guess I will just have to grit my teeth, and deal with varroa mites like the rest of you. I would like all of you to bear with me here, and place your fist on your arm. This is roughly the size relation between a varroa mite, and a honeybee. Sort of unsettling, isn’t it? I know I would not be pleased with a menace that large attached to me. These nasty buggers are quite visible when latched onto honeybees, and resemble ticks (another well-loved parasite). To fully grasp why varroa mites are so detrimental to the safety of a hive allow me to describe the numerous problems they pose.

    The Monstrous Varroa Mite

     There is a reason the varroa mite is also known as the varroa destructor. Although these pests may be small in size, researchers are pointing to the varroa mite as a huge contributing factor to colony collapse disorder. All hives struggle with varroa mites, unless they are located in the spots listed above. The varroa mites are little vampires that gorge themselves upon the blood of our poor honeybees. They insert themselves into drone cells and worker cells in order to feed upon the larvae and reproduce. Some beekeepers suggest that varroa mites typically prefer the drone cells over the worker cells as they are larger, and the varroa mites have more time within the cells since drones do not emerge for twenty four days as opposed to twenty one days for worker bees. The varroa mite population can expand rapidly which leaves you with a much weaker colony. The varroa mite can pass on about twenty six transmittable viruses to honey bees, including Deformed Wing Virus, Black Queen Cell Virus, Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus, and Kashmir Bee Virus. Some of these viruses are more easily identified than others, and will likely require an entire post dedicated to explaining them. My point here is to convey to you the seriousness involved with varroa mites as these diseases can wipe out your hives. Before we cover management techniques I will go over some of the symptoms that indicate a varroa mite infestation.

    Varroa Mite Indicators

    entnemdept.ufl_.edu_.jpg mite on bee entnemdept.ufl_.edu_.jpg
    mite on bee

    Earlier in this post I described the varroa mite’s appearance as similar to that of a tick. Varroa mites are very distinguishable on the white glistening body of larvae. However, once you see worker bees with varroa mites this is an indication of a large varroa mite infestation. The bees do their best to clean one another, and often they will knock off varroa mites in the process. So when yo begin to observe varroa mites attached to adult bees it means that the varroa mite population has gotten out of hand, and the bees are unable to keep up. When I listed some of the diseases your bees can face when plagued by varroa mites, I mentioned Deformed Wing Virus. Keep your eyes peeled for bees with twisted, distorted, wrinkled, gnawed wings as this is usually a symptom of a high varroa mite population. These bees do not really live long, but can help you to realize that you may have a problem within your hive. Now you are thinking, “C’mon Madison! On top of ensuring I have one to three day old larvae, capped brood, nectar, pollen, honey, and a steady bee population, you now want me to look out for varroa mites!?” Yes, because it is crucial to catch the mite population early so that you have a strong healthy hive going into the Fall and Winter months when the population dwindles. Before you take any steps to treat your hive it is important that you test your hive to have an estimate as to how severe your varroa mite problem is.

    Powdered Sugar Roll Test and Screened Bottom Boards

    scientificbeekeeping.com sugar roll test scientificbeekeeping.com
    sugar roll test

    To check for varroa mites, beekeepers can either use the powdered sugar roll test, or a screened bottom board. If you attended our Beekeeping 101 courses you probably witnessed our beekeeper Keith covering some bees in powdered sugar, and lightly shaking them. No he was not making a snack for later, he was actually demonstrating the powdered sugar roll test. Click here for a video of Keith performing the powdered sugar roll test. For this test we recommend you have on hand: two wide mouth quart sized mason jars, ⅛-inch hardware cloth screen to cover one jar, ¼-cup of powdered sugar, 8 fl. oz. of water, and of course your handy dandy bee brush, smoker, and hive tool. First take a frame of bees out of your hive, and lightly brush about ½ to a cup of bees into one of the jars. Of course make sure to exclude the queen from this jar. Then pour about two tablespoons of powdered sugar into that jar of bees. Place the hardware cloth inside the outer ring, and screw it onto the jar. Lightly roll the jar, with the bees in it, around. Next, wait ten minutes! This will provide the bees with time to clean each other, and knock off any varroa mites. I recommend in these ten minutes that you read my previous article on Robbing. Okay! Now that ten minutes have passed, and you have finished my amazing Robbing article, you can shake the contents of that hardware cloth covered jar into the other empty jar. Add the water into the jar that now contains the powdered sugar, and swish it around. Hold up your jar, and count the varroa mites. If you see less than six you are alright, but if you count more than six then you will need to treat your hive. We at the Valley Hive prefer this method over the alcohol wash since no bees are harmed! They simply come out as little sugar ghost bees, and hey who doesn’t like being covered in powdered sugar? Remember that you have to test once again after you have treated to see if your treatment was effective. Some beekeepers prefer to use a screened bottom board (you can purchase one at The Valley Hive) instead of a solid bottom board.  Since bees are clean freaks they are constantly cleaning each other, and in the process knocking off varroa mites. The varroa mites can fall through the screened bottom board, and onto a sticky board where you can check the count. Another benefit of the screened bottom board is it will give your hive some extra ventilation. Once you have an estimate as to how high the mite population is, you can start thinking of some steps to alleviate your mite problem. There are various varroa mite treatments you can try within your hive such as: Apivar, Mite Away Quick Strips, and Apiguard. Some beekeepers will opt for natural treatment techniques such as drone comb, powdered sugar, and foundationless frames which I will cover as well. I just bombarded you with a jumble of technical treatment names, but do not fret I will explain.

    Apivar

    Apivar Apivar

    The active ingredient in Apivar is amitraz. Amitraz causes excitation within mites, and eventually a state of paralysis. This paralysis not only leads to the mites falling off the backs of bees, but it also causes them to starve. Do not use Apivar when you have honey supers on! It is suggested that you use Apivar before the nectar flow in the Spring, and after you have harvested your honey in mid to late Summer. The purpose of the crucial Summer treatment is to ensure you have a strong colony by the time Winter rears its head.  The Spring treatment is to maximize your honey yield, and to prevent colony collapse in the lead up to your Summer treatment. Apivar strips work when bees come into contact with the strips since this is where the amitraz is released. Once these bees come in contact with the strips they will go about their day normally, going throughout the hive, and coming into contact with other bees thus spreading the amitraz. After a short period of time the amitraz disappears from the hive. The recommended dosage for Apivar is two strips, and you want to place your strips in your brood chamber which is the area of high activity. You can insert one strip per five frames of bees with a separation of two frames between the strips. It is recommended that you leave the strips in for forty two days, or a maximum of fifty six days in the case of a heavy infestation. Once the treatment has ended it is important to remove your Apivar strips, because at that point the strips release a very low amount of amitraz which can aid the varroa mites in building up a resistance.

    Apiguard

    Apiguard Apiguard

    The active ingredient in Apiguard is thymol. Apiguard comes in the form of trays, with usually two trays recommended to treat a standard colony. You peel back the lid of the tray, providing the bees with enough space to climb in, and then place it on top of the brood chamber with the gel side up. After two weeks you can remove the previous tray, and add a new one. Then, after another two to four weeks, you can finally remove the last tray. Similar to Apivar, Apiguard is also spread throughout the colony from bee to bee. Also Apiguard, just like Apivar, should not be used when honey supers are present in order to avoid tainting the honey.  As if it wasn’t already difficult enough to distinguish them, because of their “Api” beginnings. Apiguard emits a vapor that the bees can smell which leads them to the trays. The bees climb into the trays to remove the gel, because they are our wonderful little neat freaks. Due to their obsessive cleanliness the gel gets all over the branched hairs of the bees, and they will scatter Apiguard particles throughout the hive. It is best to use Apiguard during warmer periods between sixty to one-hundred degrees Fahrenheit, because the thymol vapors are released more efficiently. Also be mindful of ventilation within your hive as the thymol vapor requires space to escape. So take off entrance reducers, or consider a screened bottom board when treating with Apiguard. You may notice more bees bearding outside the hive, because they dislike the smell of the vapors. There can be risks when using Apiguard. Some beekeepers have reported the bees growing more agitated when using Apiguard. For example bees may tear out pupae, queens can be superseded, or their laying patterns may be disrupted.

    Mite Away Quick Strips

    Mite Away Quick Strips Mite Away Quick Strips

    The name of this treatment makes it sound as if it is so simple, and easy. But, make no mistake folks this is beekeeping, so nothing is ever simple and easy. However, Mite Away Quick Strips can actually be used when honey supers are present unlike Apiguard, and Apivar. The active ingredient in Mite Away Quick Strips is formic acid. These strips target male, and female varroa mites in capped brood and on adult bees. Since the strips are situated on top of the brood chamber, the formic acid molecules are tiny enough to pass through the thin wax layering of the brood. Inevitably adult bees will come into contact with the strips which affects the mites that are not located in the capped brood. Right now these strips probably sound like a fairly simple treatment, slap on the strips even with your super on, and badda bing badda boom it takes care of mites in brood, and mites on adults. But hold on there is a catch! Similar to Apiguard, Mite Away Quick Strips are temperature sensitive. If you choose to execute a full dose consisting of two strips then you must take into consideration the weather conditions for the next seven days. When using the strips the temperature range must stay within fifty to eighty-five degrees Fahrenheit, especially within the first three days. If temperatures exceed eighty-five degrees Fahrenheit, there could be excessive brood and queen loss. If you, like The Valley Hive, are situated in the San Fernando Valley, and dealing with temperatures well into the hundreds, make sure you are aware of what the temperature will be in your area at the time of treatment. Before opting for this treatment ensure that the weather is going to be within the limits, that you have at least six frames of bees or more, and that you have no entrance reducer present as maximum ventilation is also required for these strips.

    Natural Treatments

    Often you will hear people at The Valley Hive uttering the joke, “If you ask ten beekeepers a question you will find yourself with twelve different answers!” This is just to say that each beekeeper is unique in their style of beekeeping. Some beekeepers refuse to use plastic frames, some opt for foundationless frames, some beekeepers will use all medium boxes, or use double deeps even here in Southern California, and the list goes on. It appears that there is a large divide in the beekeeping community when it comes to varroa mite treatment. Above I have listed three separate chemical treatments that we carry at The Valley Hive. However, there are beekeepers who prefer nonchemical treatment options for their hive. These options include: drone comb, foundationless frames, and powdered sugar.

    Drone Comb

    Drone Frame Drone Frame

    Drone comb are specialized bright neon green frames whose cell size is bigger to encourage an entire frame of drones. The reasoning behind this is due to the fact that varroa mites typically reside in drone cells because, of the longer gestation period of drones. Drones emerge in twenty four days which gives the varroa mites more time to develop, and reproduce. Actually mites will actually latch on to nurse bees awaiting the opportunity to insert themselves into the drone cells, whose pheromones they can smell. Placing a frame, or two, of drone comb within your brood chamber may help to contain a portion of the mite population. But, you must be extremely careful and timely when you remove the drone comb. It is crucial that you remove the drone comb before the emergence of the drone bees, because if you allow them to emerge you have increased your mite population. Before the drones emerge, remove the frames. You can either scrape them, or freeze them in order to kill the mites inside. Unfortunately, you will be sacrificing some drones within your hive to complete this treatment. Also it is not a proven method of treatment and is most effective when used in the Spring.

    Foundationless Frames

    Some natural beekeepers claim that foundationless frames are better at fending off varroa mites. By allowing the bees to build out their own cell size free from the guide of foundation, foundationless beekeepers state that this leads to a natural cell size not suitable for varroa mites. This cell size is in turn smaller, and varroa mites cannot easily fit inside.

    Powdered Sugar

    Earlier I discussed the powdered sugar roll test that is intended to aid you in assessing your mite problem. Some beekeepers will attempt to use this as a form of treatment for varroa mites. You can take a pound of pulverized and ground up white granulated sugar that is reduced to a fine powder (never use regular powdered sugar as this will cause the bees to have dysentery when used for an application greater than a mite test) and place the sugar into an empty bottle that has holes at the top such as baby powder container. Then open your hive, and lightly cover the bees with the sugar. Make sure not to completely douse your bees, as this technique only requires a light coating. Just as with the powdered sugar roll test, the bees will knock the varroa mites off while cleaning themselves. You should repeat this process once a week for about two to three weeks. Most beekeepers utilize a screened bottom board for this procedure.

    Take Action

    Whether or not you choose chemical treatments, natural treatments, or a middle path, you should always treat for varroa mites, and then test after the application to ensure efficacy.  If you allow the varroa mite population to go unchecked within your hives, then not only are you hurting your hives, but you will inevitably hurt other hives in the vicinity as well. The varroa mite population will escalate, and eventually begin to latch on to forager bees. These forager bees can then spread varroa mites to other hives, so please take action against these parasites. In the beginning, treating can be a confusing process, but over time you will grow more confident on how to curtail varroa mites. Keep in mind that the proverbial magic bullet treatment for varroa mites does not exist. Never use the same treatment back to back.  Experts recommend rotating treatments so the mites are not able to build resistance to the miticides currently available. Regardless of what treatments you intend to use, The Valley Hive is here to help! Treatments are available at our store in Chatsworth at 10538 Topanga Cyn Blvd. You can call us at 818-280-6500, email us at info@thevalleyhive.com, or stop by anytime to get answers to your varroa mite questions. Our friendly, knowledgeable staff will do their best to help you with your fight against these nasty pests.

    Many of the treatments discussed in this article are used by The Valley Hive. There are more treatment options available. Do your homework. BEE-informed, and choose the right treatment path that is best for you and your bees.

    references:

    Bessin, Ric. Varroa Mites Infesting Honey Bee Colonies. Apr. 2016, entomology.ca.uky.edu/ef608

    Moore, Philip, et al. “Honey Bee Viruses, the Deadly Varroa Mite Associates.” EXtension, 29 Nov. 2016, articles.extension.org/pages/71172/honey-bee-viruses-the-deadly-varroa-mite-associates

    “Apivar FAQ's.” Apivar, www.apivar.co.nz/FAQs.htm#FAQ 2

    “Apigaurd - Frequently Asked Questions.” Mar. 2015, www.vita-europe.com/wp-content/uploads/VitaApiguardFAQ201607a.pdf

    Oliver, Randy. “The Arsenal: ‘Natural’ Treatments – Part 2.” Scientific Beekeeping , scientificbeekeeping.com/ipm-7-the-arsenal-natural-treatments-part-2/

    “Mite Away Quick Strips - Frequently Asked Questions.” NOD Apiary Products, nodglobal.com/faq-maqs/

    “Treating Varroa Mites Organically.” Treating Varroa Mites Organically, 3 Feb. 2011, www.waldeneffect.org/blog/Treating_varroa_mites_organically/

     

  • Hive Loss is a Part of Life for Beekeepers

    Written by Keith Roberts/Head Beekeeper at The Valley Hive

    checking hives in the bee yard checking hives in the bee yard

    My First Hive Loss

    I vividly remember the first colony I lost.  It was the spring of 2008 on a cool day in April that I came across a hive that was originally from a colony I removed from a stucco wall of a home in Woodland Hills.  The colony had all the fundamentals;  good laying pattern from the queen, plenty of food stores, an attentive beekeeper who fed them every week with fresh syrup and pollen patties, and there was a low mite count.  I was diligent, yet when I cracked open the cover the only thing that greeted me was silence.

    It was the first time I experienced the sharp absence of life inside of a hive; capped brood abandoned and a few newborns frozen in a permanent begging pose with their long proboscis sticking out pleading for food from sisters that weren’t there. I felt that knife in my throat; that same cut that felt agonizingly familiar to that first breakup, the rejection from the first job I applied for, the brutal ending of a long friendship.

    What Happened To My Bees?

    My heart was broken.  Here I was, in my late twenties, fighting back tears as I loaded the lonely hive box onto the back of my pickup truck. I sped to my intrepid mentor’s house to discover what had killed the precious bees.

    As I drove and, admittedly, sped, across the 118 freeway, I tried to imagine the ways I must have screwed up.  A disease I missed; something obvious that I should have seen.  By the time I arrived at Walt’s house in North Hills, I felt like a 10 year old boy with his dead dog in his lap.

    Walt was pruning the tree in his front yard and he walked toward my truck as I parked along the curb. I felt ridiculous, ashamed, a failure.

    “My bees died, Walt,” I said, attempting to keep my voice even. “Can you tell me why?”

    “Let’s take a look,” he said in that matter of fact tone that was his trademark.

    Analyzing the Dead Hive

    He took out each frame and scrutinized the comb.  He held the comb against the sun, he brought it close to his nose and inhaled deeply, pausing to process the scent.  He flipped the frame and looked closely at the underside of the cells.  He took a small twig off the ground and did a field test in one of the capped brood cells, swirling it around and slowly extracting it as he searched for the tells of foulbrood.

    Let me be clear about something: Walt did not shy away from confrontation, especially when it involved incompetence from another party.  Since that “party” usually consisted of yours truly, I was used to the sudden beratement that sometimes came when I committed an error in some way.  I was anticipating the verbal assault, i.e. lesson, as I stood there on his front lawn.  It was my fault; somehow, some way.  I screwed up and killed an innocent colony of bees.

    He put the last frame down inside the hive box, looked at me, and simply said, “It looks like this colony died.  Keith, that’s all I can tell you.”

    It's Not Always Your Fault

    My sadness exploded into a strange anger. “40 years of experience and that’s all you can tell me? Really?” I shot back. Here I was expecting to be torn down and it was me that was suddenly terribly out of line. The irony was not lost on me. “Come on, you know I messed something up.”

    Walt drew a deep breath, looked down at the ground and then straight in my eyes.

    “Losing bees is part of being a beekeeper.  You cannot explain every loss. You just can’t.  You can do everything right and the bees can still pass away.  This is your first death of a colony.  I promise you; it will not be your last.  Not even if you are the best beekeeper on this planet.”

    “I feel horrible,” I said.

    He put a calloused hand on my shoulder. “Finally,” he said. “You’re a real beekeeper. Now come inside and have a beer.”

    I went inside his home and he handed me a Pabst Blue Ribbon.  After a couple hours of conversation revolving bees, the repairs that never ended on his house, and life in general, I thanked him and bid him goodnight.

    Why Bees Die

    Since then, I have lost, literally, hundreds of colonies.  Most have been from pesticide.  Some from Varroa Mites that got away from me, others from marauding ants, and some I have no idea.  I have also been handed hundreds of hives from hundreds of beekeepers, men and women, some with brave faces with that same wetness in their eyes that others may have missed but I sure caught.  It takes one to know one, after all.

    You can see the Varroa Mite defecation on the underside of the cell. Others, you recognize a starved hive from the bottoms of the bees sticking out from the comb, frozen in a desperate search for food.  I have yet (KNOCK ON WOOD) to smell the telltale stench from foulbrood from an urban beekeeper’s hive, but a very high percentage of dead outs I am asked to analyze make me remember that day when I watched Walt check out my frames.  Sometimes, the comb reads like novels.  Sometimes, they are blank pages.

    And I have to give that same lecture, sometimes to a devastatingly broken heart.  When professionals across this country who have forgotten more about beekeeping than I will ever know lose 40% of their hives as of 2016, there is no denying that what Walt told me that day was the truth.

    Losing A Hive is Part of Beekeeping

    Losing hives is a part of beekeeping.  Period.  Listen to the beekeepers around you, read all you can, inspect often, treat when necessary, and watch, watch, watch.

    But losses are a part of beekeeping.  Recognize when it is your fault and use it as a motivator to adopt better techniques. But also learn to accept that sometimes, despite your best intentions and actions, losses still happen.

    Feel that sharp pang of frustration with this?  Congratulations.  You’re now a real beekeeper.

    Hive Loss is part of Beekeeping. Hive Loss is part of Beekeeping.

    Editor's Note: Keith Roberts is co-owner of The Valley Hive a beekeeping supply company located in Chatsworth, CA. The Valley Hive sells Beekeeping Supplies and offers Beekeeping Services including House Calls to Backyard Beekeepers looking to start a backyard hive.  Interested in becoming a beekeeper? Check out The Los Angeles County Beekeepers Association for more information.

  • How to Handle Robbing in the Hive

     

    Southern California experienced an epic bloom this Spring while the bees experienced a dramatic surge in Honey Production. Southern California experienced an epic bloom this Spring while the bees experienced a dramatic surge in Honey Production.

    written by Madison Newman

    More Flowers equals more Honey Production

    The unprecedented rainfall we experienced over Winter, and into Spring was extremely nice while it lasted. Not only was it nice, but it brought about a spectacular super bloom for all to enjoy, especially the bees! This super bloom lent us a lush green hand to pull us closer out of the nasty drought we have faced over the last few years. I assume many of you beekeepers were very pleased with the altered landscape that included vibrant splashes of all colors of the rainbow. Furthermore, it seems as if many of your hives were bursting at the seams due to the various nectar sources that sprung to life thanks to the rain. Unfortunately, this abundance is coming to an end, and now we will be entering a nectar dearth. A nectar dearth begins when Summer heat causes the nectar flow to slow dramatically. This leaves the bees extremely strapped for food sources which leads to our topic for this specific post: robbing! Put away your lock picking kit, and let’s get down to “bees-ness.”

    What is Robbing?

    Robbing is when a hive is attacked by invaders from other hives out of desperation for food. A robbing frenzy can induce many problems within a colony such as a large loss of bees, low food reserves in the hive, and ultimately a more aggressive hive. First off you may be wondering how to differentiate robber bees from normal bees within your hive. The robber bees do not don ski masks, so you will have to utilize your watchful eye in order to spot them. It can be easy to mistake a hive plagued by robber bees as an active hive. However, there are notable differences in the behavior of robber bees versus busy foragers. Forager bees dart out of the hive with a purpose, and return heavy with pollen, nectar, or water. These foragers will land smoothly on the porch of your hive when returning with goodies. While robber bees, who are not weighted down with any food, hover from side to side awaiting an opportunity to shoot past a guard bee. Robber bees thoroughly inspect the outside of the hive to locate other ways to enter the hive aside from the main entrance. Another major sign of robbing is an extreme battle royale taking place outside of the hive. Tumbling, and rolling will occur, and it is not a display of bee acrobatics. The guard bees lay down their lives to ferociously defend their hive. You will notice them locked in combat near the entrance of the hive, and even on the ground.  This fighting gives way to another red flag that indicates robbing, dead bees scattered throughout the ground, and the porch of your hive. There may also be shredded pieces of honeycomb located inside, and outside of your hive. This is caused by the robber bees tearing apart the capping of beeswax in order to reach the liquid gold inside. Now that I have made all of you nice, and scared I should probably cover some ways to prevent robbing, and solutions once it has begun.

    Desperate for food, the bees go after this extractor that was drying out in the sun. Although this extractor had been cleaned, desperate bees in need of food come looking for any traces of honey left behind.

    What Can You Do About Robbing?

    If you would like to lessen the likelihood of robbing occurring there are some steps you can take. Do not leave honeycomb, or honey lying near your hive. This will inevitably set off a frenzy. For example, we at the Valley Hive placed our extractor outside the other day to dry. But bees in need of food are incredibly persistent. Despite our thorough cleaning of the extractor, the bees still targeted it in hopes of gaining a little extra food. So try to be as clean as possible when dealing with your hive, place excess honeycomb into a bucket with a lid, and do not leave behind a goopy mess for eager robber bees. This also applies to sugar syrup. Do not be careless with your sugar syrup, conserve every drop less you want robber bees all over your hive, but if you do I am not entirely sure why you would read this article in the first place. Regarding feeding, using an internal  Frame Feeder can help reduce the risk of robbing compared to an external Boardman Feeder that is set near the entrance of a hive.

    Blocking the Hive Entrance

    Although you may follow these prevention tips, sometimes robbing can simply be inevitable. Therefore, when your hive is under attack from robber bees it is time to take action. One solution to stopping an attack is an entrance reducer. As most tools in beekeeping the name is very self-explanatory. An entrance reducer is a block of wood cut in specific spots that limit the size of the entrance into the hive. Restricting the entrance will make it easier for the guard bees to defend their hive against intruders. Be mindful when you restrict the entrance as it will in turn hinder ventilation. Some beekeepers will use grass, which limits the entrance whilst also providing some ventilation. Another method you can consider is a soaked bed sheet draped over the hive. This prevents robber bees from finding the entrance, but the resident bees of the hive can navigate their way around the hive. The bed sheet can be left on the hive for a day or two, and water reapplied as needed.

    In Conclusion

    Now that you understand how to identify robbing, how to prevent it, and how to stop it there is no need for you to invest into a hive security system. Hopefully, your bees will remain happy, healthy, and robber free. If you ever have any questions, or concerns regarding your own hive feel free to call us at (818) 280-6500 or email us at info@thevalleyhive.com. You can also learn more about robbing by attending Beekeeping 101 Classes, offered through the Los Angeles County Beekeeping Association (LACBA) on the 2nd Saturday of the month through October. Classes will begin again in February.

  • The Music of Spring

    written by Keith Roberts, Head Beekeeper at The Valley Hive

    “Winter’s on the wing, here’s a fine spring morn

    Coming clear thru the night, from the May I say…”

    -Dickon  from The Secret Garden

    Here’s a little known fact about the beekeeper at The Valley Hive….. I have a soft spot for musicals.  One that is especially relevant at the moment is The Secret Garden, and a particular song, “Winter’s  On The Wing” has been on loop for the last two weeks as I’ve made my rounds working bees.  The character, Dickon, senses winter losing its icy grip and he summons the spring to overcome the cold and bleak.

    There is an energy permeating across Southern California, and I am not talking about some abstract, New Age mystical concept.   When I have opened hives during the last two weeks, I see brand new wax; what my mentor referred to as “the icing on the cake,” being made by young bees encouraged by the nutrient rich nectar they have been receiving from their sisters coming back from the fields.  They are finding food, and a lot of it.  It takes some 2 million visits to flowers to make a pound of honey, but it takes an astounding equivalent of nine pounds of honey to produce a single pound of wax.  So when I see it being built, I start paying very close attention.

    Queens are now being fed in full and they are laying at high speed, nearly 2,000 eggs a day.  The population of a hive can expand rapidly to capitalize on the banquet that is being prepared for them by nature.  Some of this is normal for this time of year, but this time, it just feels… different.

    “And now the sun is climbin’ high, risin’ fast on fire

    Glarin’ down through the gloom, gone the gray, I say

    The sun spells the doom, Of the winter’s reign

    Ice and chill must retire, From the May I say”

    After one such day of working bees, my restlessness gets the best of me and I find myself walking around my neighborhood.  It is about an hour from twilight, and I hear the bees above me working the white blossoms of the flowering pear trees standing proudly in the middle of the sidewalk.

    Ornamental Pear Ornamental Pear                                                                                                           photograph by Keith Roberts

    As I round the corner, I catch a scent that takes me back to one of my favorite places; my grandparents’ house in Granada Hills.  It is the unmistakable aroma of orange blossoms, and soon I see them peeking over someone’s white fence on the other side of the block.  The bees tumble over themselves trying to secure themselves to the coveted flowers.  Further down, a hedge of rosemary is in full bloom and judging from the action of the bees, there are hives, somewhere close, that have locked this location down with waggle dances.

    Mustard Fields in Bloom Mustard Fields in Bloom                                                                                               Photograph by Keith Roberts

    The next day I find myself at one of my apiaries in Simi Valley.  It is hardly recognizable.  A month ago, one would find nothing but barren mud along the hills.  Now, mustard grows as tall as my shoulders, and I take a few pictures of the massive bloom as I catch the unmistakable scent of nectar being cured coming from the hives behind me.

    “And now the mist is liftin' high, leavin' bright blue air

    Rollin' clean 'cross the Moor, from the May, I say

    The storm'll soon be by, leavin' clear blue sky

    Soon the sun will shine

    From the day, say I”

    As always, I remember my mentor, Walt, as the tells of spring radiate throughout the city.  Occasionally, when he was a passenger as I drove us to the next job, his normal subdued demeanor would break into a near hysteria, almost always when I was on a busy street or highway.

    “Pull over, pull over!” Walt shouted above the radio.

    I would deftly move across the lanes and throw on the hazards before coming to a full stop on the shoulder.  My pulse was pounding in my head and I was thinking how I could have possibly set the truck bed on fire.  I knew I put that damn smoker out.

    “What’s wrong?” I asked, convinced there was a fire somewhere despite not seeing any smoke from glancing in the rear view mirror.

    He was already out of the truck.  I watched him pluck a flower from the roadside and bring it back to the cabin.

    “Take a look at this.  This is  salvia leucophylla, also known as purple sage,” Walt began to lively discuss the parts of the plant the way a gearhead might talk about the inner workings of an upgraded engine with a super charger.   After the lecture, I let the silence take hold of the cabin as cars whizzed by us to our left.

    “I thought the truck was on fire,” I said, as calmly as possible. “You made me pull over for a plant?”

    “Well, this is important,” he said.

    “Can I continue driving now?”

    “Sure.”

    I merged back on the highway with Walt continuing on about major nectar producers versus minor producers and what bloomed when and where while I breathed deeply, resolving myself not to lose my cool.

    Grape Soda Lupine Grape Soda Lupine                                                                                                Photograph by Keith Roberts

    But as the years have gone by, I have my blinders off; if I miss the blossoms and the bees don’t, I will see that energy represented in that colony.  I will see the brood chamber rapidly expand, beautiful new wax, fresh nectar being stored.  And now the curiosity gets the best of me and I find myself pulling off the road to take a quick picture of lavender in full bloom, or the playfully named grape soda lupine growing wild alongside Topanga Canyon Blvd.  If I can’t recognize it, I will take a small sample of it into the truck with me and have a nursery identify it.

    This rain we have had this season was nearly record breaking.  Our hills are cloaked in green and the beginning of an immense nectar flow that we haven’t enjoyed in the last decade is foretold with colonies swarming, desert wildflowers enjoying a record bloom, and the bees are telling the beginning of a story that you can share if you just take a moment and look around you.

    I write this on March 20; the first day of spring.  If you have bees, right now, you might have heard the girls foretelling you of the inevitability of this season, just as Dickon does in Secret Garden.

    “And you’ll be here to see it, stand and breathe it all the day

    Stop and feel it, Stop and hear it

    Spring, I say”

    Spring is the perfect time to start a backyard hive! Learn more at our classes at http://www.thevalleyhive.com/blog/2017/02/21/lacba-beekeeping-101-calendar or check out our website for more information at http://www.thevalleyhive.com/home

     

     

     

  • Almond Pollination -- A Day in the Life of a Beekeeper

    A Beekeepers' Christmas A Beekeepers' Christmas

    written by Keith Roberts, Head Beekeeper at The Valley Hive

    ALMOND SEASON

    February is the Super Bowl for U.S beekeepers, and California is the perpetual stadium.  More bees are in this state at the moment than anywhere else on the planet.  The almonds provide a very nutritious pollen and they expand in population rather rapidly as they kick their queen into high gear, and it is not unusual for them to run out of space in their two box format.  Today’s mission is to ensure that doesn’t happen, so the truck is piled high with empty boxes just in case.

    STARTING OUT

    I wake at 4:29 a.m., one minute before my alarm.  I turn it off before it has a chance to pierce the silence and I check the weather in Hanford, my destination today.  As I hear the rain plinking outside my bedroom window in Canoga Park, I force myself to believe the weather prophets’ forecast for clear and sunny skies today in the almond orchards. For most people, the weather influences attire.  With the uncharacteristically wet weather of late, being a beekeeper in the almonds can be tricky. Getting stuck in the mud, among stinging insects without cell service is definitely a concern.

    Coffee and lunchbox in hand, I head to The Valley Hive in Chatsworth to pick up the bee truck, affectionately nicknamed “Chelsea”.

    It is still early: 5:15.  My joints creak, and I am reminded that, although in my thirties, I do not feel like a young man anymore. My previous career of delivering packages has added a bit more mileage on the odometer than normal. As the tendinitis in my right hand hisses its presence, I wonder if I will even make it to the average age of the commercial beekeeper.  Sixty years old seems a lifetime away.  As I cinch the loads tight, cold rain permeates the green straps, steel ratchets, and my sore knuckles, and I can’t help but think that all of my experience at this young age is a good thing.

    The GMC 6500 Flatbed has two stacks of 80 medium boxes.  As I step out of my pickup in the rain, I look at the tall stacks and anticipate the jarring terrain and potholes of the 5 freeway before the grapevine. I am no longer content with the load. I loosen the straps, climb onto the truck, and restack the boxes into three rows instead of two to lessen the chance of losing a box on the Grapevine.

    I realize I forgot a lid for one of the boxes, and go to climb off the truck by way of the ball hitch, which provides a convenient step off the back of the trailer.  As I go to brace myself on the hitch, I find nothing but an empty space.  It is gone.  I flash back to leaving the truck at a shop the other night due to the water pump succumbing on Friday on the way out to do what I am doing now, and I conclude immediately that it must have been stolen.

    My anger rises, and I let it pass.  Today is for the bees.  The hitch will be a problem to solve tomorrow.

    I climb into the cabin, turn the key, and the 454 engine roars to life, seemingly eager to battle the distance, road, and elements.

    Snow on The Grapevine Snow on The Grapevine

    ON THE ROAD

    The rain pounds the truck as the grapevine provides snow and beautiful scenery.  I stop to take a quick bathroom break in the wet and cold at a rest stop and check the load.  Everything is holding tight, and I start the truck and head back on the road, thinking about the work ahead.

    The 5 Freeway splits into the 99, and I make the move.  I am in farm country now, and the almond orchards I pass appear to be in full bloom.

    As I take a sip of the black coffee, still scalding, I nearly burn my hand.  The excitement and apprehension of the day take turns rolling over in my gut like an apple coated in barbed wire.  My mind is on thoughts of the bees. They should be healthy; or they might be poisoned by pesticide; perhaps stolen. Colony thefts have skyrocketed in recent years.

    20170226_110212

    ARRIVAL IN THE ALMONDS

    Three hours of driving finds me in Hanford.  The first drop of 20 hives is healthy. Begrudgingly, I take some ridiculous selfies, as requested for our social media accounts.  I place supers on the booming hives and let myself take in the beautiful white and gold blossoms on trees that were the definition of barren a mere week and change ago.

    Dead Bees in the Almonds Dead Bees in the Almonds

    Further along, I discover colonies with a few hundred dead bees on the ground in front of the landing board.  My heart aches at the sight.  My frustration simmers as the smoker churns on top of a cover.  The hive next to the compromised one shows no sign at all of being exposed to the same toxin, and I wonder what was sprayed.  Year after year, beekeepers are forced to witness their hives being poisoned by the very same folks who demand these six legged pollinators.  Is this ever going to end?

    Happy Bees Happy Bees

    Unaware of the fatalities, the bees seem to be in a fantastic mood.  I wear only a veil -- no gloves or suit today.  They seem almost happy to see me, and I as I carefully place a medium box with 10 frames above their existing box, I imagine they appreciate the expansion of the Langstroth mansions.

    I am alone, so perhaps I am even more attentive to the placement of the tires of my bee truck.  “Stay on the crown, Roberts,” I say to myself, referring to the top most part of the dirt road that tapers off along the sides that would spell a muddy ruin to an otherwise perfect day.  There is not a rain cloud in sight, and the sky is a deep blue; the weather people got it right today.

    Selfie Selfie

    I work the bees, I snap some photos (coerced, mind you), and I take in the beauty.  It is almost uncomfortable to take it in all alone, and I am not sure if my color-blind eyes can adequately comprehend the magnificence of the blooms. The bees provide amazing company, and I do not mind being by myself, typically. But these blossoms are a once in a year event, and perhaps my Super Bowl metaphor isn’t appropriate.  This is Christmas.  Yes.  This is the beekeeper Christmas.  The gift of the almonds that heralds the spring. I understand why the Japanese so appreciate the blooming of the cherry blossoms,

    It really is beautiful.

    The last box is placed on a hive, and I secure a handful of lids and head back on the road.  I have a quarter tank of gas left in the truck and I have a choice; 25 minutes out of the way to the east, or go back the way I came, a straight shot, with fuel 30 minutes in the distance.

    I choose the latter and cruise down the 43.

    UH-OH

    Chelsea The Bee Truck Chelsea The Bee Truck

    I make a left on Pond Road, on my way to the 99.  The fuel gauge still shows a click above empty, and I am 4 minutes away from fuel.

    Suddenly the engine dies, and I use the momentum to safely get myself parked on the shoulder of the road.  I am out of gas.

    “This is all on you, Roberts,” I mutter.  “Real good. Seriously.”

    I call AAA and tell them of my idiocy. I am told someone will be out in about 45 minutes with fuel. As I end the call,  I notice a dozen bees or so resting on the windshield.  The truck had stopped at another almond orchard in full bloom with bee hives next to the road.

    Out of concern for the AAA driver coming to my rescue, I get out of my truck and walk near the hives to assess their temperament.  They ignore me, and I am satisfied that the driver will not be rewarded with bee stings for helping me.

    In 30 minutes a technician is filling my tank with five gallons of dino-juice.  As the fuel is heard raining inside the empty steel tank, the broad shouldered tech looks at me with a bit of concern.

    “So, um, these bees, they aren’t going to sting me right?” He asked.

    “Not unless I want them to,” I chuckle.

    He did not find me funny.

    “I’m allergic,” he asserted.

    “They won’t sting you.  They are nice bees.  I checked.”

    “Thanks.”

    After a handshake and a turn of the key, I was on the road again.  I made it to the Chevron station, filled up the tank to the brim, and headed back home.

    As the sun moves to the west, I focus on navigating through the chaos of the Los Angeles freeway traffic and find some satisfaction in knowing that I am one of thousands of beekeepers travelling to and from the almonds today to work their bees.

    I was wrong earlier.  I wasn’t alone.

    I had company all along.

     

     

     

  • Finding Bees for Your Hive

    WHERE DO I GET MY BEES?

    After you set up your beehive, the next step is to fill it with bees!  Here we will discuss the different types of Honey Bees, and the various methods used to obtain bees.

    DO ALL BEES PRODUCE HONEY?   felicia bees on a frame

    There are more than 20,000 species of bees in the world. While the U.S. is home to approximately 4,000 types of native bees, Honey Bees (Apis Mellifera) are not native to the United States.  The European Honey Bee (Apis Mellifera Linnaeus) was brought to America in the 17th century by the early European settlers. Consequently, the Honey Bees that we use mostly descend from European races of Honey Bees. Honey Bees are the only insects that make food for human consumption. And like a lot of animals and insects that are found all over the world, Honey Bees also differ from one another based on a lot of factors.

    BEE STOCK

    There are many different types of Honey Bee species in the world. Since the 1800’s, beekeepers have been breeding bees with certain characteristics for a particular purpose, whether it be for pollination, honey, or bee production.

    “The term “stock” is defined as a loose combination of traits that characterize a particular group of bees. Such groups can be divided by species, race, region, population, or breeding line in a commercial operation. Many of the current “stocks” in the United States can be grouped at one or more of these levels…” – David Tarpy, 2005. The Different Types of Honey Bees. AG-645, NC State University, Cooperative Extension Servicer

    Bee stock can vary greatly. Any generalities about a particular stock should be treated with caution, since there are always exceptions to the rule. The most common types of Honey Bees available in the U.S. are: The Italian Bee, The Carniolan Bee, The German Bee, The Caucasian Bee, The Buckfast Bee, and The Russian Bee. To learn more about these bees and their attributes, check out the following link:

    http://beesource.com/resources/usda/the-different-types-of-honey-bees/

    WHERE DO I GET THE BEES FOR MY HIVE?

    If you want gentle bees, purchasing your bees through a reputable bee breeder is your best chance.  Although, there are other options for obtaining bees.

    swarm on iron gate 01

    SWARMS

    One way to start a hive is by collecting a swarm.  A swarm is merely a group of bees with a queen that has left their home in search of a new one. Since they don’t have any brood (developing baby bees) or honey to guard, they are generally very gentle.  Before the swarm finds a permanent home, the cluster of bees might take up temporary residence in a bush or low lying branch. Swarms are relatively easy to catch, but some beekeeping knowledge is helpful.

    As a new beekeeper in Southern California, starting out with a package of bees or a nucleus of bees may be a safer way to start a hive. While swarms are gentle, many of the bee colonies in Southern California contain some degree of Africanized genetics. Africanized Bees are more aggressive than their counterpart, the European Honey Bee, and keeping Africanized Honey Bees is not advisable. Oftentimes, when dealing with these bees, they become more aggressive as the colony grows.  So, while the temperament of the swarm may appear gentle, the behavior can change with time.

    CUT-OUTS

    Another way to start a hive, is by doing a cut out. This procedure involves removing and relocating a colony of bees from one location to another. Relocating a hive is an advanced beekeeping technique. Depending on the size of the hive, doing a cut-out can be complex, messy, and time consuming.  Proceed with caution and be sure to assess the temperament of the bees. We recommend that you hire a professional, if this is the route you choose to take.

    IMG_0016 reduced


    PACKAGED BEES

    A package of bees is approximately two or three pounds of bees. The bees arrive in a wooden or plastic box, with a mated queen hanging inside in her own cage. Installing a package is easy.  Watch our YouTube video to see how a package is installed. The Valley Hive sells Italian Bees, which are known for their favorable temperament. They are also excellent honey producers.

    5 frames of bees

    NUC OF BEES

    A Nuc, short for nucleus, is a small colony of bees. Consisting of 5 frames of bees, the queen has already been introduced to the bees and a combination of eggs, larvae, and honey are present. A Nuc contains bees and frames, but the remainder of equipment including the hive body, top cover, bottom board and 5 additional frames, is sold separately. A feeder is also recommended so that the colony can easily build out the first box with the necessary comb needed to store honey and eggs.  The Valley Hive sells nucs as well as the additional equipment you will need.

    NEED HELP?

    The Valley Hive is here to answer all your bee related questions. We invite you to stop by during our regular business hours which can be found on our website. Taking classes through The Los Angeles County Beekeeping Association (LACBA) is a great way to get started. For more information about the classes, check the LACBA website.

     

     

     

  • Bees 2017

     

    BEES 2017

    Reserve your package now on our website!

    The best time to start your beehive is in the Spring. Packaged bees are plentiful at this time, and the bees populations begin to explode. Reserve your bees now to guarantee your order. Packages will be available for PICK UP ONLY in the middle of April. The exact date will be announced soon. Nucs (5 frames of bees) are created from packages Bees, so they are available later in the season.  We recommend that you place your order early, as bees do sell out.   If you have additional questions, please send us an email at info@thevalleyhive.com or give us a buzz at (818) 280-6500. 

     

    PACKAGED BEES:

    IMG_0010

    A package of bees is approximately three pounds of bees. The bees arrive in a wooden  box, with a mated queen hanging inside in her own cage. Installing a package is easy.  Watch our YouTube video to see how a package is installed. The Valley Hive sells Italian Bees, which are known for their favorable temperament. They are also excellent honey producers.

     

    NUCS:

    5 frames of bees

    A Nuc, short for nucleus, is a small colony of bees. Consisting of 5 frames of bees, the queen has already been introduced to the bees and a combination of eggs, larvae, and honey are present. A Nuc contains bees and frames, but the remainder of equipment including the hive body, top cover, bottom board and 5 additional frames, is sold separately. A feeder is also recommended so that the colony can easily build up their first box with the necessary comb needed to store honey and eggs.

    QUEENS:

    IMG_0053

    Mated, Italian, California Queens will be available in the Spring.  The queen arrives in a queen cage (above)  with attendants. Queens will be available later in the season. Check our website for updates.

  • Coffee with the Bees meetup at The Valley Hive on Saturday 8-22 and 9-12

    eating donuts

    Spend Saturday morning having coffee with the Bees! Come join us at The Valley Hive on Saturday morning to chat about bees. There will not be a formal talk just coffee and a chance for beekeepers to get together to talk about things in and outside the hive.

    You do not need to be a beekeeper to attend. Everyone is welcome!!

    Dates are:

    • Saturday September 12th 10am to 11am.

    Feel free to contact us with any questions about the meet up!

8 Item(s)

Working Hours
We are open 7 days a week from 8:30am-5:00pm
We have moved! Our new address is 10538 Topanga Cyn Blvd. Chatsworth, CA 91311
(818) 280-6500
 
 
 
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