What to do about wasps?

Wasps can become a problem for us and our bees at this time of the year. To understand why and what to do, it helps to know something about their lifestyle. Wasps are carnivorous. The larvae are fed chewed-up insects by the adults and they exude a sweet substance which the adults lick up and from which they obtain much of their carbohydrate intake. When the breeding cycle comes to a close at the end of the summer, the adults no longer have access to their “sugar fix”. They raid our picnic tables and they raid honey from weak colonies.

The fact that wasps eat insects means that they do provide a beneficial service to gardeners in controlling aphids and greenfly during the summer. This function is no longer available at the end of the summer. Most people do not like killing (even!) wasps but you should be aware that the breeding cycle is over and the adult wasps have no further useful purpose to serve and they will soon die (the mated queens hibernate until next spring).

  • if your bees are being harangued by wasps, you can do one or more of the following:
    narrow the hive entrance to the smallest practicable extent (say 30mm wide)
  • ensure that your hives are bee & wasp proof (many old hives have broken corners or joints that are opening or roofs with ventilation openings that once had mesh over them but which are now open to wasps and bees)
  • if you’re feeding your bees, do so in the evening and mop up any spills immediately
    hang up a large grey bag stuffed with newspaper in your apiary (something the looks like a wasp nest). Wasps will be deterred from coming into the apiary because they will be fooled into thinking that there is a wasps’ nest and they are safer elsewhere. (I guess it doesn’t hurt to try!)
  • put up wasp traps. These can come in two forms – traps that kill and traps that trap insects without killing them. The latter are useful if you want to release insects other than wasps that have entered the trap. You will find examples of both on the web – see http://www.nationalbeeunit.com/downloadNews.cfm?id=122 for a trap designed for hornet monitoring but which can also be used for wasps. Bait them with jam, beer – fermenting sweet concoctions of any type.

Notes from the hive: August 21, 2018

I was carrying out a standard inspection yesterday and noticed a queen that was, strangely, unmarked & unclipped. (I mark & clip all my queens). I didn’t have queen marking pen or scissors so carried on with the inspection. Two frames later I saw a queen, marked red (this year’s colour). A perfect supersedure no doubt. Since I had already inspected a queenless colony the “red queen” went into an introduction cage and into the queenless hive. Let’s see what happens!

Bees donated to Wisewood Primary School

Wisewood Primary School is the first of Sheffield schools to take up an offer of free bee hives donated through SBKA. They took delivery of their first colony of bees Wednesday 11 July and will soon install two more colonies.

Together with the children and David Richards of the David & Jane Richards Family Foundation we found the queen, marked her red – the 2018 colour – and clipped one of her wings to prevent her being lost in a swarm.

The children were fantastic – excited but very well behaved around the hive. They all had a go holding a frame of bees and brood to look for eggs and larvae.

Read more:

July 2018 SBKA monthly meeting

Dr. Andrew Barron, originally from Lincolnshire, studied zoology at the University of Cambridge, where he gained his doctorate, and has since worked at universities in the USA and Australia, having worked at Macquarie University in Sydney for almost 10 years where he is currently Associate Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences. His current interests are split between studying the neurological systems of bees and ants including developing mathematical models of honeybee brains, and also, in response to the recent colony collapse phenomenon, he is now studying how to improve the resilience of honeybees to the likely causative factors.

Having already given a lecture at Sheffield University recently on the first topic, he came to the SBKA meeting on 11th July to talk on matters arising from the second. In spite of the clash with the screening of the football match between England and Croatia a surprisingly large number of members attended. Australia is one of the very few places not as yet invaded by the varroa mite, this has enabled a study there of the effects of thymol, currently used as a treatment against varroa, on the honeybees themselves (and not efficacy against the mites).

One cohort received the treatment as prescribed by the manufacturers, while the control cohort received no treatment. The bees in those colonies thus treated suffered a knock down in colony growth from which they did not fully recover later in the season, and some were adversely affected even to early the following year. This was not found in the control group. (This would presumably affect the number and quality of vital winter bees in the UK.)

Those exposed to the treatment as larvae were neurologically damaged and never performed well afterwards. There was an effect on the hygiene behaviour of house bees, and the uncapping and removal of faulty larvae increased by some 40%. Unfortunately however, the activity was then less discriminatory, with healthy larvae becoming involved as well as unhealthy. Perhaps this is not surprising as both bees and mites are arthropods having similar neurological features.

Although not yet tested, it is thought that probably all other known chemical treatments, such as oxalic acid, formic acid and amitraz, may prove to have similar deleterious effects on bees.

Factors affecting the performance of foraging bees were then raised. Very sophisticated technical experiments had been carried out involving the identification of foragers, weighing them and timing them on leaving and returning to their hives. The investigators became frustrated that they were unable to measure the pollen loads of returning bees as they were lighter on return than when they had left. This was because the bees loaded up with heavier nectar before leaving to fuel their forthcoming flights and returning empty.

The investigation revealed that it is most important that the worker bees are able to go unstressed through the whole normal development process before becoming foraging bees. Stressed colonies where foragers die prematurely forces younger bees to forage too early. They are then inefficient, may only do a handful of trips and then die or get lost, whereas ‘normal’ experienced foragers are very efficient and may do a hundred or more trips before they die. 20% of them do 50% of the work. However, anything that stimulates an immune response in the foragers (and they are very sensitive) will curtail collection of pollen.

With regard to the other topic of research interest, it was mentioned that a variety of ideas to help beekeepers overcome their more recently arisen problems are currently under active investigation and consideration for practical application.

What to do with crystallised honey in frames

October 2017

Question

I had an exhausting day yesterday extracting honey from my first super!

I did notice that there is quite a lot of crystallised honey still in the frames – one or two have pretty much a full side, where as others have patches of it.  Quite a lot of “runny” honey still came out as well.

I can’t remember what you are meant to do if you have crystallised honey in frames, and the internet seems to be very divided!

If I gave it back to the bees would they manage to get it out? Or are the frames effective “wasted” to be recycled into wax?

Answer:

In your neck of the woods your bees are likely to have access to Oil Seed Rape (OSR) which granulates very quickly. Usually it stays liquid whilst on the hive but supers need to be extracted within a day or so after being taken off the hives. You have several choices what to do with granulated honey, none of which produce honey for direct human consumption:

  • Use a heated extraction tray (or equivalent – say a jam pan on a low heat) which will melt the honey and the wax. When left to cool the wax will be set on top of the honey and the two can be separated. Since the honey has been heated to a fairly high temperature it is classified as “baker’s honey” and is only suitable for cooking with. If you jar it and label it it must bear  the words “baker’s honey” and “intended for cooking only” (more details here.)
  • Since the cells are uncapped you could place the frames in a container of water and let the honey dissolve out (I’ve never tried this myself but I am told it works). The resultant solution can be used as feed for your bees (but October getting too late for the bees to be taking liquid fed) or used as the basis of mead. If you want to us either solution for feed next autumn, you’ll have to freeze it to prevent it fermenting.
  • Place the combs in a box under the brood box. Whilst bees are not keen to take granulated honey they will utilise it when there’s no better alternative. It may help to spray the combs with water to help dissolve or soften the sugar crystals. Probably the best option!

Bad temper

Question

I’ve just had a worrying experience with my hive (started as a nuc this year) – a big cloud of bees around my head and essentially attacking my head as soon as I took the (two full) supers off. I didn’t even begin the inspection – just closed it up and most of the cloud stayed around my head and followed me back to the back door of the house. This colony tend to be quite tetchy (the odd sting and follower) but never like this before. Any ideas about what I may have done? Weather etc. seems ok. I’m beginning to think I may not be cut out for this!

Answer:

Your colony sounds as if it might be queenless but don’t panic yet (there’s nothing you can do at this time of year if they are queenless except to try and buy a new queen from somewhere.) The bad temper may be for other reasons so it might an idea to give it another go.

Light your smoker, use it liberally and make sure you are well suited up – and look for eggs and small larvae.

Deformed wings, dead bees, and crystallised honey in March inspection (March 2018)

March 26, 2018

Question

I carried out a quick inspection of my colony yesterday when it was warm and noted a number of bees with deformed wing virus (though I treated with api-guard x 2 in autumn and oxalic acid in January). There were also some dead bees part-emerged from cells, which I think could also be an indicator of viruses related to varroa? There is quite a bit of crystallised honey in the brood frames. I saw the queen and a few larvae so she seems to have started laying again, and otherwise there was quite a bit of activity going on/pollen collecting etc.

I was wondering if I should change the brood frames to help with disease control and get rid of the crystallised honey? Possibly as a shook swarm around mid/end of April? Does that sound vaguely sensible? And/or should I be undertaking any more varroa treatment at this stage? I’m currently feeding with fondant.

Answer 1:

Viruses can’t replicate outside their host and don’t even survive for long so comb replacement is of limited value for DWV (but still good to do to counter fungal & bacterial diseases). You don’t mention the size of your colony. Something like a shook swarm is quite a stressful experience for a colony and I wouldn’t consider it for a small ailing one. They also need good weather so I wouldn’t consider a shook swarm until mid-end-April (perhaps even May considering our weather prospects this year!)

Deformed wing and dead emerging bees with their tongues hanging out are signs of parasitic mite syndrome – essentially virus overload. Varroa treatment for PMS is a bit like shutting the barn door after the horse has bolted. The damage has been done and the bees are suffering from viruses. Nevertheless if the Q is laying then there is a possibility that the new bees might develop free of viruses so it is sensible to carry out a varroa count and treat again if necessary. A new product on the UK market claims to be 95-99% effective and can be used in early Spring/late summer – the chemical is Amitraz and proprietary products are Apitraz and Apivar.

Keep feeding if they’re eating the fondant – I’ve found with some of the SBKA bees at WS that they prefer to go up to fresh fondant rather than sideways to granulated honey. There’s very little else to do at this time of year.

Answer 2:

I’d feed pollen supplement/substitute swell as/instead of fondant – depending on how much fondant mixed with pollen. Although the bees are bringing in pollen they are not getting out much at the moment and pollen needs are high.( to produce plenty of healthy young bees.) Also if you want to do a shook swarm in April building up the number of bees now will get hive ready for that. Shook swarm will not clear viruses – but will get rid of the 85% of the Varroa that are in the brood. Amtraz is quoted as being 95-99% effective – but the small print afterwards says – ‘when the brood quantity is low’ – not the case in April!! I also read recently that following a shook swarm if you sacrifice two brood frames after the Q has started to lay in the new chamber you can also dispose of most of the other 15% Varroa that were in the phoretic stage – i.e. on the adult bees when shook swarm done. That leaves a hive with really low Varroa count.