Friday, October 30, 2009

The Formic Acid Pad - Mite Away II Pads

I didn't measure with a ruler but the pad is about 6 or 7" square.

They were Mite Away pads of Formic Acid that came pre-soaked they really did smell strong.

Formic Acid creates fumes strong enough to kill Varroa Mites and to penetrate capped cells as the mites feed off baby bees in their cells.
The pads have 250 ml of 65 % formic acid in them. Its the combination of this and the holes in the bag, the front of the hive open and the bees ventilation along with temps of + 10 Celsius that makes it a successful treatment.

The small Mite Away pads have 35 ml of 65% formic in them x 6 or 7 applications 4 to 7 days apart to give the same result as the larger pads. The large pads which I used are left in the hive for a full brood cycle - between 24 to 26 days.

The pads work by fumigating the hive to a point where it doesn't kill the bees but makes the mites let go of the bees. The heaviest concentration of acid fumes are on the floor of the hive where it kills the mites.

Regular garbage is fine for disposal of the pads after treatment. Most of the acid will have evaporated and formic is a natural acid.

When the pads were first taken out of the barrel at the bee supplier's place, we didn't want to be close to it because the smell is quite pungent. Yes, it smells like super strong so don't inhale it. It reminded me a bit of the occasional time I get a little too much pickle juice and then I choke or cough.

The pads sat on the small sticks laid across the top bars of the hive. A rim spacer was in place to create a little space for the pad as well.

It comes with the pre-made holes on one side - the bottom and the holes are to face down. The fumes from the pad will drop down into the hive and then be ventilated by the bees.

My hives are not 2 deep hive bodies. Instead I am running 1 deep and 1 medium.

The pads cannot be held with bare fingers or they will burn your skin. I purchased a pair of special plastic chemical gloves to hold the pads with. Later I found chopsticks more effective to pick up or shift the pad without touching it.
If the weather doesn't cooperate and it's too late to do a Formic Acid treatment, there is Oxyalic Acid which can be put in the hive in the middle of winter. It's done with a drip syringe.

Patty Cake, Sugar Cake, Yummy said the Bees

I really never liked cooking. So this recipe is perfect for me. It's a no cook sugar patty recipe.

After reading around the web a bit about fall feeding I decided to add some kind of feeding in addition to the sugar syrup. The weather had been cold at night and the bees were really only eating the syrup on warmer days.
I got "fine sugar" which is caster sugar in the baking aisle at the grocery store. Caster sugar is regular white cane sugar but it's ground up into a fine powder-like consistency. I remember many, many years ago making caster sugar in cooking class at school by putting regular sugar into an electric grinder. It's used a lot to sprinkle on top of fruit or fancy desserts. Icing sugar isn't really the best for feeding because it contains corn starch which the bees don't really digest very well.
I used sugar syrup as a liquid to pour into the caster sugar bit by bit. You have to start small because the sugar can get too running if too much liquid is added. I made it into a moist consistency of thick paste.

I laid strips of wax paper on the top bars of the hive and spooned the mixture onto the paper. (At a later feeding I did all the spooning onto the paper before opening the hive so it was ready to set right in - reducing the amount of time the hive was open in the cooler weather). I suppose I could have got my hands dirty too and formed them into patties like hamburgers.

I also sprinkled just the plain caster powder on another strip of wax paper.

I returned today (5 days later) to find that the bees in both hives had gobbled up both the sugar cakes and the powder sugar. They were swarmed all over the paper and I had to shake them off.

In Hive #1 they had chewed up the paper and later I watched as bees left the hive carrying out bits of the white wax paper - cleaning house.

They hadn't taken much of the sugar syrup. Hive #2 had lots of bees under the clear panel in the hive top feeder but I didn't see any in Hive #1. It was concerning at first for Hive #1 until I removed the feeder and saw the top bars covered in bees licking up the sugar cake.

So, I made up a fresh batch and left it for them. Bon appetite!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

End of Fall Treatment

The day was lovely with a high of 13. The day before it was mostly overcast and under 10 degrees so when Sunday rolled around with a bright sunny warm sky I knew it was time to open the hive.

The purpose of this visit was to remove the Formic Acid Pads which had been in the hive for 26 days (a full brood cycle).
I'm sure the bees will be especially glad to have that stinky thing removed. The mite drops with the pad in were remarkable and I could tell it was necessary to ensure the hives survived the winter.
Next I put in the last of the AFB treatment, mixed with sugar powder. It's sitting on waxed paper. I also added some caster sugar which is just regular sugar but ground up into a really super fine powder.
I wanted to use this kind of sugar because I know that the icing powder sugar has corn starch in it which the bees can't really digest. I added it as a plain powder (pictured on the right) and I also made up a chunky paste with it by adding sugar syrup to the powder to make a heavy paste. I'm hoping the bees will feed on this on the days when they don't feel inclined to eat the cold sugar syrup sitting on top of the hive.
I was pleased to see Hive #2 were busy taking syrup from the hive top feeder. I could observe them through the plastic pane. This is the hive that Henry said needed feeding so it was a relief to see them eating.
I didn't see bees feeding on Hive #1 but that's not to say they're not. I got a little delayed to look at this hive because a school bus of university students showed up at the orchard for an info session and because I was there I was able to give them an impromptu lesson on honey bees. It was fun.
Hive #2 was more active coming and going from the hive than #1. I added the pink entrance reducers and waited around for a bit to watch the returning bees figure out the new reduced way of getting into the hive.
I've temporarily duct taped the reducers in place. That's because in a couple weeks I'll be adding the bee cozies which are to rest on the nail in the reducer. What I haven't figured out yet is whether I need to nail the reducer down to keep it from moving once the cozie is in place. Any suggestions anyone?
I noticed a few bumble bees, yellow jackets and lady bugs flying around. They could probably smell the sugar syrup, that and the warm sunshine would have attracted them. I put one bumble bee in my sugar paste jar for a bit for a little sugar snack. She certainly didn't mind.

The season is coming to a close as I prepare the bees as best I can for winter. We all think it will be a long cold winter like last year. I'll do my best to help them get through it.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

This Pleasant Dull Moment

It was a bright and sunny day. A perfectly wonderfully boring day. And greatly appreciated too.

No excitement, just an ordinary trip on an ordinary day to do a round of medication in the hives.

Sadly there were some dead bees on the front porch. Most of them were drones but there were workers too. I even saw two workers with pollen on their legs dying on the front porch.

On closer examination their wings appeared to be functioning, although they couldn't fly. I noticed that of their six legs, none of the nearly dead or dying workers had working use of their front legs. I don't suspect this is pesticide poisoning. I do suspect that the Formic Acid or AFB medication could be in play here. The temperate was only 8 so the coolness of the day may have played a factor as well.

On the upside, there was fairly steady traffic coming and going from both hives, a little more from Hive #2 than Hive #1. And they were bringing back pollen! Where on earth they are finding it is a mystery but I'm happy to report that in this new location I've seen more pollen coming back in this cold fall weather than I ever saw come back in the swamp. I think that's a positive sign we're in a good spot.

Mite counts were 80 for Hive #2 and 60 for Hive #1 so the Formic Acid is still working away. I can't imagine either hive would be alive in spring if left untreated.

The sugar water was down a bit so they did take some.

I'm looking forward to next weekend. That's when the rim spacer comes out along with the Formic Acid pad. Shortly after that I'll be able to put the entrance reducer back in which will make the hive much warmer. Then I'll be finding out when to put the "bee cosies" on the hive for winter protection.

A nice thing happened in that I got a chance to do a little bee education with a couple families that were there to pick pears. I let the kids try on the bee hat and veil and they posed for pictures. Just about everybody has a camera with them these days. It was a nice impromptu opportunity.

Everything else that day was pretty darned normal. Gee... sigh..... whew!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Home....Home at Last!

It was their first day in the new location.

I had to work but I watched the sun rise that morning and for once it was going to be a cloudless and sunny day.

I thought that was a very fitting welcome for the bees. It would give them some decent weather to begin exploring the new area.

So they're city slickers now. I went right after work to see them - it gets dark so quickly these days that the photos look like night time when it's actually about 5:30 p.m. I did my "chores" first though using daylight and left the photography for just before I was leaving.

I had to open the hive - briefly. Not for an inspection but to add more powder for their AFB treatment.

All the powder that was there was gone so I'm presuming they ate it (I didn't see it all over the sticky board at the bottom of the hive).

I also put their Formic Acid pad back on it's little stilts. It had shifted in the move which I anticipated it would.

And finally I topped up their sugar water feeder. It doesn't look like either hive has taken any syrup in the last week or so. I'll be keeping an eye on that.

I worked really quickly so that the hive wasn't open long, releasing all their heat, so no photos of the inside.

Next I did mite counts. Hive #2 had at least 200 mites on their sticky board. The week before the treatment the mite drop was about 18. Quite a difference.

Hive #1 had 50+ mites. I'm very glad I did the Formic Acid treatment and my friend Henry confirmed that it was a good idea. I recharged the boards with Crisco and tucked them back inside.

I still need to question whether it's okay to leave the screened bottom boards in all winter or will it be too drafty? Any advice or comments on that? NOD Apiaries makes bee cosies and I have two so that should help keep the bees warm but those won't go on until November.
There were a few bees coming and going from the hive, flying straight out and others flying straight back. It wasn't that warm a day so I didn't expect to see a lot of activity but it was reassuring to see things look normal.

I managed to keep the hives in their same orientation as the other bee yard. I didn't get to see the hives get loaded on the truck (I was at the yard in the swamp and the truck was parked at the edge of the swamp). I noticed that if I hadn't marked the outsides of the hives then I wouldn't have known which hive was #1 and which was #2.

A couple months ago I marked each hive front with a symbol. I just used a green sharpie marker and put a square on Hive #1 and a triangle on Hive #2, near where the front entrance reducer goes. Why you ask? That's a great question. I did it because research has proven that bees use visual landmarks as guides, among other things too like scents and the sun.

When my beautiful queen was found dead on the ground in front of the hive I thought she might have returned from mating and accidentally flown into the wrong hive and gotten herself stung. That's when I decided to put the symbols on the hive so that when the bees orient themselves in front of the hive before leaving, they'll see the symbol for their hive. And yes, they can tell the difference between a square and a triangle...and they can count to 4! To learn more about it, see my blog on a lecture I attended in the spring (

What we found very surprising is when Henry said that Hive #1 - the hive that requeened and then I had to purchase a queen for - had the right amount of weight for winter. Somehow this hive has caught up and made up for falling so far behind. I would not have guessed that instead it's Hive #2 that needs to bulk up a bit.

Because we were moving the hives, I took the opportunity to paint some 4x4' boards to put on top of the pallets. Once I dropped my hive tool and it fell between the pallet's slats so now that won't happen again. There's a bit of an overhang too which makes for a nice front porch.

This weekend is the Canadian Thanksgiving. Monday is a holiday. We'll be getting together as a family to enjoy turkey and all the trimmings. It's a great time to give thanks for all our blessings. I'm especially thankful that the bees have finally found their home.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Big Move

An apple a day keeps the doctor away. I've always loved apples, but I'm loving them now more than ever.

The bees have a home. Finally. They're in a lovely new bee yard on an apple farm. It's called City Orchards. Our bees have now moved from the country to the city. So they're now City Bees in a City Orchard. I don't think they'll mind a bit, especially after the grand and glorious sunrise on their first morning in the new bee yard. It was an omen, but a really really good one.

I pictured the bees coming sleepily to their front door wondering what all the brightness was. It would be the sun, minus the darkness of the swamp and all those trees that made the place feel cold. The sun would actually touch the hive and warm it up which will really help them as we progress through our winter season.

I worried a bit about some of the older workers just flying off in the morning without looking back, without reorienting themselves to the new location. Some advice on-line about moving hives was to block the entrance mostly but not completely with grass. As the bees notice the change they reorient before leaving. Then the grass dries up and dies.

The problem is that I'm not to reduce the entrance to the hive due to the Formic Acid treatment inside which must be ventilated. And then I forgot to ask my beekeeping friend Henry what to do about that before we parted company after packing up the hives--like asking if I should leave the window screening in the entrance to keep them in for a day or so? Instead I removed the screening hoping that the brightness of the sun, the lack of trees in front of the hive and the shiny white platform would slow them down enough to look and realize things are different so they'd reorient before going out.

Henry had told me previously that it wasn't really a problem about these older workers - really the foraging out in the field is done for the season and these bees aren't the ones that will carry the hive through the winter. But you know me, I care about all of them (probably too much). I'm already thinking that these workers will need to locate water sources for the hive, but I don't even know if they need water at this time of year.

Here's some pointers which may be helpful if you have to move hives

Things we learned in the move:

* even though you may have a check-list of all the items you need to do prior to the move, double check that all your ratchet ties are actually in the vehicle and don't assume they are still in it because you put them there 4 months ago.

* the bees don't really come out much in the move but window screening placed in the entrance allows ventilation and can prevent any angry bee from coming after you once the hive starts to move.

* Move the hives in the dark when the bees are all inside. Cold or rainy days are even better. Flashlights and backup batteries were very useful.

* If putting hives in an open truck bed, face the hive entrance to the south of your northbound vehicle so that the wind while driving will not rush inside the hive and chill the bees

* If you have the entrance facing the south (as above) then the frames will be parallel to the road. This means that if bumping and swaying, the frames will are much less likely to bang together and squish your queen.

* Duct tape can be used in place of a ratchet tie so keep duct tape on your checklist.

* Working at night is much different than the day time and paths are hard to see, things can get dropped on the ground in the dark so be prepared for some fumbling around.

* It's a good idea to either have a son or a nephew so that you have a muscular person around to lift the hive. (It's WAY cheaper to encourage your siblings to have kids instead of having them yourself).

*When lifting the hive to move it is a good time to "heft check" if your hive is heavy enough to survive the winter. For southern Ontario, 65 lbs for a single deep is the recommendation. Henry, who can tell from one lift said Hive #1 is fine and Hive #2 could use some more feeding (I'm feeding both anyway).

* Marking the front of each hive differently helped to be able to tell them apart - and set them in their new location in the same orientation.

* Use a level to check that your platform and your hives are level.

* Always buy your helpers dinner.

Saturday, October 3, 2009


I knew about this place. In fact I'd known about it since I was a child. It was a family owned apple farm about 4 or 5 miles from my home. We would always drop in there every summer and fall to buy bushels of apples and cider. Juicy Macintosh apples were my favourite, chilled and fresh right out of their giant cold room.

Then about 10 years or so ago the family who had owned the place for generations put it up for sale. The City bought the land and then leased it out. And a man who thought he'd like to be an apple farmer leased the land and learned how to be an apple farmer.

So the good news is that an old farm with apple trees still exists on the edge of the city just like it did when I was a kid.

I had called the city about this land way back in April when I was first looking for a bee yard but they were very quick to put me off. So I dropped it. But the more I looked into the by-laws I realized that the city really couldn't say no to bees if the leasor agreed. Besides, I found out there are no by-laws to prohibit them. Also as I called and tried more and more places and got negative responses I got back to thinking about this place. And when two people mentioned to me that I should try asking at this place so I took them up on it.
The leasor said YES and that he's zoned for farming. So the great news is that within the next few days my bees will call this place home.

I talked to the farmer, yesterday on the phone and he was quite happy with the idea of free pollination of the apple trees and some honey in exchange for giving us some space. This morning we met him and he had a nice spot picked out behind the large shed and right to the side of the grass driveway. Yes, a drive area - so I can pull the truck in right next to the hives.... SWEET!

There's a lot of things to be excited about. I'll save on tons of gas and time by not having to commute out of the city. The thing I'm most excited about though is not having to battle the mosquitoes. They really were bad in the swamp and I always had to keep a veil and gloves on the whole time. Now I'll be able to sit a minute and look at a mite sticky board without having to slap my fingers or do a little video without shaking them off.
There is a large conservation area across the road and a huge lake, lots of meadowland with wildflowers, a large neighbourhood with gardens and of course the apple orchard. So there's plenty of forage for the bees. There's even a lowland area on the other side of the road where ducks and geese gather and I believe a creek too so that will be another natural water source for the bees.
Of course it was raining, actually thundering quite ominously when we got to the swamp so we had to move quickly to beat the real downpour.
We weren't moving hives today. Instead we brought out as much of the "gear" as we could and brought a couple pallets and cement blocks which we would use as the new platform. My nephew Codie and his friend were willing to come and help which speeding things up incredibly.

Back at the new location Dad got out the weed whacker and very quickly created a nice level spot. I didn't get any before shots so picture the area with about two feet of grass and wildflowers. Then we put down the cement blocks and the pallets. And amazingly enough the pallets were level!
I think that's a sign of a good start...and a great provision.... actually an awesome provision.
Thanks God!

Friday, October 2, 2009

So, What Happened to Us?

There I sit in my large kitchen, finely dressed, with my bosom plump and hanging over my corset.... well not exactly.

What I want to draw your attention to are the three bee hives just outside the kitchen door. I've been reading just about every historic book about beekeeping that I can get my hands on and one of my favourites is "Robbing the Bees" by Holley Bishop.

That's where these drawings came from, although the author gleaned them from other historic texts.

So back to the bee hives outside the kitchen door. What Holley tells us in her book is how honey played such an important and vital role in the lives of people all over the world. It was so important that most households had beehives and either the menfolk or womenfolk tended to the bees.

After all, honey was the only sweetener around in those days. So it was greatly prized. Bee trees were literally written into the family will to pass down generations and they were guarded and protected. Bees were even used as ancient weapons. Hives were launched via catapults at the enemy. (If you're a beekeeper, you'll enjoy reading this book).

Look closely at this drawing and you'll notice the arched shaped hive openings across the entire front of the castle. These hives would have provided honey for the population and built in weapons for times of war not to mention wax for candles to chase away the darkness of the middle ages.

Bees were so respected that they held a place of honour, which brings me to show you this third historic photo. Notice the built in openings for the bees at the FRONT of the house.

This photo kind of rocked my world. What is a startling revelation to me is to notice that back then no one was afraid of bees. They loved bees. They were proud to have hives and have them very close to home. Everyone worked with bees. So this begs the question: What the heck happened to us?

How did we get to be so afraid of bees that we've relegated them to the swamp, the bush, the back of the field? I ask this because in my search for a new bee yard I've become more desperate to find a location as the days go by and I've been reading up about city and provincial bi-laws. I've driven around the city and I've seen so many great patches of land--city owned land just sitting vacant. I've talked to city officials about these numerous meadows and conservation areas that could be great bee sites--but everyone is so afraid of liability that they don't want to touch the topic with a ten foot pole. I don't know what we're more afraid of these days, the bees or getting sued.

The current provincial bi-laws state that any hives on a property must be a minimum of 50' from a neighbour and 100' from a public meeting area. The bee has lost its place of honour near the front door. Our fear has driven it away.

Honey was a commodity that never went out of fashion and never lost its flavour.... until cane sugar came along. Cane sugar quickly superseded honey as the sweetener of choice in most family homes. It was cheaper and I guess some felt it was easier to obtain. It pushed honey to the back burner and left it to the appreciation of a food connoisseur.

But honey never lost popularity completely and gradually people have begun to appreciate this healthy food and sweetener. And the bees have got our attention again. As they suffer more and more with disease, pests and environmental stress, our respect and thoughts turn back to this amazing little insect that we almost forgot.

It's nearing time to take those hives from that back bush and put them up front where they belong. In a place of honour.

We think our search for a bee yard is near an end. I have a good prospect which I'll be checking into tomorrow. Please say a prayer on our behalf that we find a good yard for our bees. Thanks!