The A, Bee, C’s: Of OTS
OTS refers to a technique refined by queen-rearing expert Mel Disselkoen called On-The-Spot queen rearing. This technique is used with a hive-splitting system to encourage queenless colonies to produce a new, robust queen. Mel developed the OTS system after studying other methods of queen rearing used by G.M. Doolittle and Dr. C.C. Miller. Benefits of using the OTS system include expanding your apiary, increasing honey yield, and producing post-solstice queens (queens eclosed after the summer solstice/end of June in MI) that typically have better winter survival rates.
The crux of the OTS method is using a notching method to elongate cells with either eggs or less than 3-day-old larvae to make room for the bees to turn these cells into queen cells. To do this, you would press the sharp edge of the flat, prying end of your hive tool straight down into the wax bottom wall of the cells and then tilt your hive tool down and back to flatten the area underneath the cells. This artificially elongates the cell and again gives space for the bees to create a queen cell.
Here are some tips to remember when using the OTS method. Never allow a split or a start to make a new queen, but encourage full-sized hives with a minimum of 4 frames of brood to make new queens. OTS may encourage bees to produce many queen cells, but you want to leave only 1-2 of the largest cells to discourage fighting amongst the virgin queens. Notching will only encourage bees to make queen cells if there is no queen present in the hive. Bees need an abundance of food and nurse bees to rear a robust queen.
More Information: https://www.mdasplitter.com/
The A, Bee, C’s: Of Feeders
There are almost an infinite number of ways to feed your bees. You can feed them inside or outside of the hive using a wide array of commercial or homemade feeders. Here I will go over just a very small number of feeders and their uses. There is no “best” choice. There are pros and cons to each and it is all in what works best for you. Some hold more syrup and don’t need to be filled as often, while others are easier to fill or to keep clean. One constant over all ways to feed you bees is that feeding inside the hive ensures that particular hive gets the nutrition and is less likely to attract robbers, pests, and bees from other hives which also means it is less likely to spread disease than community feeders outside the hive.
There are two forms that pollen or pollen supplement/substitutes can take. One is a dry powder and the other is a moist, doughy pollen patty that has the pollen part mixed with sugar syrup. Typically, the patties are fed on top of the frames inside a hive and the powder is fed in a feeder outside the hive. One drawback to feeding the patties inside the hive is that they can attract pests like small hive beetles. One drawback to feeding the powder outside the hive is that you will need to purchase or make a feeder and it will attract pests and bees from other colonies outside of your apiary.
Sugar syrup can be fed from either an open or closed container. For example, frame feeders go right in the hive in place of a comb frame and have no lid. One drawback to them is that the bees may drown if you do not have something floating on top of the syrup. Also, since they are open, they can get dirty with debris, mold, etc. Top feeders are similar in that they are open feeders inside the hive, only these are larger and go between the top box and the inner cover. Again, the main disadvantage of a top feeder is bees drowning, but most commercial top feeders have designs to prevent this. Mason jars with very small holes poked in the lids are by far the most common feeding method for hobby beeks for sugar syrup. These can be placed inside the hive or outside the hive. Commercial beekeepers typically fill 5 gallon buckets with holes in the lids with sugar syrup and either place these over the hole in the inner cover or on stands outside the hives.
More Information: https://www.honeybeesuite.com/what-type-of-honey-bee-feeder-is-best/
The A, Bee, C’s: Of Feeding
As a beekeeper, it is often said that you also have to become a botanist and a meteorologist so that you not only know what is blooming in your immediate area and when it is blooming, but also to know your local weather patterns so that you are aware of situations that may prevent your bees from accessing what is in bloom. Both the plants available for your bees and weather conditions during the year are hyper localized based on a number of factors including geography and whether you are in an urban, suburban, or rural area. What is blooming in your area in early May is likely very different from what is blooming just a few miles down the road. It is important to keep this in mind to know when your colonies need to be fed.
Honey bees get all of their nutrition from flowers, so when there are no plants in bloom, bees must rely on either their food stores or the beekeeper to survive. When there are no nutritional resources available in the environment, this is called a dearth. Typical times for a dearth in MI are the winter, late summer, and late fall, but there can also be a kind of dearth in the spring if the weather is too cold and wet for bees to access the blooming trees, shrubs, and plants.
The 2 nutritional sources for bees are pollen and nectar. Beekeepers may need to feed either pollen, pollen substitute (a protein rich fake pollen), or pollen supplement (a protein rich substance containing some real pollen) in times when pollen is scarce but the bees are rearing a lot of brood, like in the springtime. Some beekeepers will also feed 1:1 sugar syrup as a nectar substitute in the spring until the bees stop taking it which indicates they are getting adequate nectar from the environment. Typically, 2:1 sugar syrup is fed if there is a fall dearth to help bulk up winter honey stores. Since bees will not take sugar syrup in the winter, many beekeepers put dry sugar or fondant in their hives over the winter to ensure their bees won’t starve. NOTE: Never feed sugar syrup with honey supers on. This will lead to sugar syrup “honey.”
More Information: https://pollinators.msu.edu/resources/beekeepers/feeding-honey-bees/
The A, Bee, C’s: Of Stings
No matter what you read on the internet, the simple truth is bee stings are dangerous. Even if you are not allergic, even if you have been stung many times before, even if you have gentle bees, every sting is an opportunity for an anaphylactic reaction. Again, even if you are not allergic to bee stings, you can spontaneously develop an allergy and have a systemic overreaction by your body that can cause fever, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, headache, convulsions, throat swelling, trouble breathing, loss of consciousness, shock, and in some cases, death. While multiple stings at the same time are more likely to cause a severe reaction, these serious symptoms can be caused by a single sting. ALL BEEKEEPERS should carry epinephrine auto injectors (i.e. Epipens) with them when working their hives, especially hives that are remote or when doing inspections alone. Also, as a beekeeper, you will get stung. There is no way to not get stung, only to minimize the amount and severity of the stings. That being said, even if you are or become allergic to bees, with proper immunotherapy and precautions, you can still continue beekeeping (I am a bee sting allergic beekeeper).
Most honey bee stings cause a local reaction at the sting site. This reaction typically includes: pain, swelling, redness, heat, itchiness, and tenderness that can last a few hours to a few days based on the individual and any topical or systemic treatment applied or taken. Topical treatments include ice, meat tenderizer, antihistamine (i.e. Benadryl) spray, cream, or ointment, and steroid (i.e. cortisone) spray, cream, or ointment. Some people also experience a more moderate reaction with hives that appear on other parts of the body and/or more generalized swelling of the entire area (like the entire hand for example) that worsens over time. Sometimes these more moderate symptoms can be controlled with oral antihistamines (i.e. Benadryl), though oral steroids like Prednisone are sometimes needed. Any reaction that is more than local inflammation at the site of the sting is cause to see a doctor.
What is a stinger? What happens when a honey bee stings you? Only female bees have stingers because they are a modified ovipositor. The stingers of the worker bees are barbed and have two parts which allows them to work their way deeper into the flesh. The stingers are attached to venom sacks which continue to pump venom into the body of the victim minutes after it has pulled away from the bee itself, eviscerating and killing the bee in the process. Not unlike snake venom, honey bee venom is a witch’s brew of peptides and other substances meant to injure the thing that is stung. The main component of bee venom is a peptide called Melittin which causes pain and cell death.
More Information: https://www.beeawareallergy.com/resources/beekeepers/high-risk-allergy/
Many people get into beekeeping to “save the bees,” and honey bees have become a vital part of our agricultural system, pollinating crops such as almonds, blueberries, and apples. Unfortunately, honey bees are not native to North America, so keeping honey bees to “save the bees” is a lot like keeping backyard chickens to help with the plight of the Kirtland’s Warbler. Worse, when uneducated beekeepers fail to manage their colonies properly, they spread pests and diseases to our native bees, doing harm instead of good.
I am NOT saying that we shouldn’t keep honey bees. I enjoy keeping bees, love honey, and have no intention of giving that up. However, what I am saying is that there are much better things to do to “save the bees” than to become a beekeeper. These include, but aren’t limited to, planting native forage, never planting ornamental flowers, limiting or stopping the use of pesticides in your yard, encouraging your local government to plant community gardens of native plants, cutting down on the amount of lawn you have and replacing it with native plants, supporting bee-friendly farms, planting bee-friendly trees, and donating to organizations who support pollinator education and conservation.
Consider also that honey bees often compete with native bees for our dwindling floral resources. Since the 1930s, the United States has lost a staggering 97% of wildflower meadows, leaving little forage for our native bees. Additionally, honey bees are often attracted to invasive plant species such as star thistle, proliferating this noxious weed.
More Information: https://www.nwf.org/Home/Magazines/National-Wildlife/2021/June-July/Gardening/Honey-Bees
The A, Bee, C's: of Bees
Apis mellifera is the western honey bee. Its native range is Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. It is one of the only eusocial animal species on the planet, meaning that a colony of honey bees is a superorganism. No one individual bee can survive on its own.
There are over 16,000 species of bees in the world, about 4,000 of which are native to North America, and around 450 species of which are native to Michigan. Of those 16,000+ species, only around 8 species of bees produce honey. There are no native honey-producing bees in North America. Most bees are solitary bees and do not live in colonies.
Being a eusocial superorganism means that honey bees are divided into castes or physiologically different variations of the same species. The 3 honey bee castes are the queen, workers, and drones.
The queen is the only fertile female in the colony and lays all the eggs. She is the largest bee in the hive.
The workers are all sterile females who, as their name suggests, do all of the work inside and outside the hive including brood rearing, foraging for food, wax building, taking care of the queen, and many, many other tasks.
The drones are the male bees. They are larger than the workers and their only job is to fertilize virgin queen bees.
More Information: https://www.nwf.org/Educational-Resources/Wildlife-Guide/Invertebrates/Bees
The A, Bee, C's: of Beekeeping
Honey bees are NOT NATIVE to North America. Therefore, there is no such thing as “natural beekeeping” in the United States when it comes to Apis mellifera.
Beekeeping is less of a hobby and more of an agricultural undertaking. The USDA considers honey bees to be livestock.
A honey bee colony is an ANIMAL! Think of it like a new puppy. It needs food, water, shelter, health care, and room to grow. It is not something that you can set up and walk away from to let the honey bees “do their thing.” Not managing your colonies is animal neglect.
More Information: https://www.nal.usda.gov/legacy/afsic/beekeeping
The A, Bee, C's: Welcome!
Welcome to the A, Bee, C's! The purpose of this blog is to break bees and beekeeping into bite-sized bits for new beeks (beekeepers)! Each post will feature the 3 main points of a new important topic.
Jen Haeger is a new master beekeeper and board member of A2B2.