Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Bees Can't Swim - Feeding My Bees.

"Great is our terror of the unknown" - Titus Livius.

The day after I found wax moths in one of my hives I placed cedar chips across the hive entrance of all of my hives.  I also sprinkled a little on the top bar of the infected hive.  It seemed like a good idea at the time.  However, I woke up the following morning at 4:00am in a complete panic.  Had I just put cedar chips in my hives and made it unsuitable for bees?  I was sick to my stomach at the thought.  I quickly went online and searched the topic only to find equal parts of positive and negative comments - with no conclusive reports.  As soon as the sun was out I rushed to the bee yard and found that the bees were fine.  In fact they had pushed all of the wood chips off the landing and onto the ground.  That was a week ago.

Yesterday, I inspected my hives and I am glad to say, "The moth problem has been solved" - "For now anyway."  The hive that has been infested with moths had absolutely no signs of the home wreckers.  The hive still only has three frames of bees but they seemed healthy.  However, my hives had not grown as quickly as I had expected.  So it's time to feed them.

The US Department of Agriculture's June 19, 2015 Report states:

MISSISSIPPI: Beekeepers are reporting that the bees are in pretty good condition and have produced some honey, though not as much as needed for demand. Privet hedge honey volume was fair and the Popcorn flow has started along with the clover and wildflowers just before the Tallow comes in. Rain has been the main factor for less volume of honey so far this year and supplies appear to be tight again. 

So it seems that my hives are not the only ones seeing slow growth.  For that reason, I began feeding my bees sugar water last week.  From what I read it is always best to allow the bees to gather nectar naturally and I agree.  Yet, with all the rain, is seems the bees just aren't gathering enough food.

My hives are surrounded by woods, wetlands, and soybean fields.  I visited MSU Cares' website and found a great list of pollen and nectar sources and when they bloom.  On that site I found that Soybeans will begin producing a large amount of nectar and pollen from July 1 - August 31.  So I am hoping that the sugar water I feed them now will help boost their numbers for the upcoming months to nectar flow.
Dead Bees in Feeder

Now here is where I can lay some knowledge on you.  When I first started beekeeping I bought Pro Feeders from Mann Lake LTD.  Back then the feeder was just an open trough that was designed perfectly as a bee death trap.  Of course, no one told me,  BEES CAN'T SWIM!!!

The picture on the right was taken yesterday.  It seems I forgot to place lifeboats in the feeder and so nearly 100 bees drown this week.  The best thing I have found to prevent this is plastic spoons.  No, I'm serious.  I place plastic spoons in the feeder and the bees use them as lifeboats.  Packing Peanuts work too but they can easily get blown all over your bee yard if you are not careful.


Another feeder option is to use Mason Jars.  There are two ways you can use the jar:

One is to build or buy a feeder attachment that slips in the front entrance of the hive.  This is probably the best option for feeding but you have the added expense of the attachment.  That is fine if you are a hobbies but for large scale operations, it might be lest desirable.

The other option for using the Mason jar is to simply cut a hole in the outer cover of your hive to accommodate the lid of the Jar and then poke a hole in the jar lid and invert it into the the hole.  This works great but leaves a hole in your lid.  My friend Marvin uses this method but for some reason, I don't like the idea of cutting a hole in my lids.  That being said, this is probably the best option.

However, for now I already own 50 Pro Feeders and so I will continue to use them until I need more. At that time I will reconsider my options.




Monday, June 29, 2015

Wax Moths and Heart Break

I have often wondered why it is so important to inspect hives on a weekly basis.  Once the hives have been treated for mites, treated for hive beetles, and supers have been added, what's left?  The answer, "WAX MOTHS!"

Wax Moth Damage
I like the quote by Gillard who said, "Wax moths keep us from becoming lazy."  Well, I got lazy this month and my bees paid the price.  A month earlier I had expanded my hives from 6 to 14 by buying 8 new Italian Queens (only 3 survived).  The next day I left town for 2 weeks then returned home and became very sick for nearly another two weeks.  By the time I got back to my hives, the carnage was sicking.

In the photo on the right you can see the silky destruction the wax moth worms left behind.  Even now, I feel sick just looking at the photo.  Without much knowledge about Wax Moths I started by killing them by hand.  In the words of Anakin Skywalker, "I killed them. I killed them all. They're dead, every single one of them. And not just the men, but the women and the children, too. They're like animals, and I slaughtered them like animals. I HATE THEM! "  I'm not kidding.  I took such joy in squashing those little bastards - they make a pop and squirt sort of sound.

Next I took all of the infected frames out of the hive and replaced them with newly cleaned frames (Later I'll talk all about how I have been cleaning over 500 old frames).  10 frames in all were destroyed by the moths but there were still about 3 or 4 frames of bees and brood that seemed to be making a last stand in the corner of the hive.  Over the next couple of days, I inspected the hive and fed the bees sugar water to help build them back up.  I also added cedar chips to the landing to reduce the hive opening and sprinkled a few on the top bar of the box (not sure if this is a good idea or a really bad one).


I went home and began researching wax moths.  It seems there is really no chemical to treat them other than Paradichlorobenzene (PDB) - which is sort of like moth balls (but don't use actual moth balls - they have other chemicals in them that aren't safe for bees).  The best defense (as with all bee problems) is a strong healthy hive.  Well that is great advice but it doesn't help much when you are starting a 3 frame nuke.  So what else can be done?

For starters: Think small bee numbers - small hive.  By this I mean, if you only have 3 or 4 frames of bees, then stick with one hive body (or one box).  The bees will have less real estate to protect.  However, this goes against the advice my friend Marvin gave me.  He told me to put 3 boxes on every hive no matter the size, so that the bees would have room to grow.  For now I have followed his advice but today marks a week and I will reevaluate the situation today.

Now if you have wax moths, you need to treat them:
First, do what I did and remove the infected frames.
Second, Kill the eggs and larva.  To do this you have 6 options:
1. Freeze the frames for 4.5 hours at 20F degrees.  Then let them thaw out and they are good as new.
2. Heat the frames for for 80 minutes at 115F degrees.  But remember that wax will begin to melt at 148F degrees so don't get them too hot.
3. Carbon Dioxide treatment.  This one seems too dangerous and complicated for a small operation but you can read more about it at: http://www.clemson.edu/extension/beekeepers/publications/wax_moth_ipm.html
4. This is my favorite: if you have a fire ant bed near by, place the super filled with wax moth on the ant bed.  The ants will clean it up for you.
5. Paradichlorobezene (PDB) is the active ingredient in moth balls.  I am not a fan of chemicals and will try the first 4 methods first.  Nonetheless this is an option.
6. Lastly, and only if all else has failed, burn the infected equipment.  I don't like this idea at all and I can't imagine ever doing it.

Today makes a week since I first found the problem.  I had planed to visit the bee yard tomorrow but since it is supposed to rain the rest of the week, I will be going out today.  If you have any advice on a better way to deal with the moths or you have had any personal experience, please feel free to leave a comment.


Gillard, G. 2009. My Friend, the Wax Moth. Amer. Bee J. Vol. 149 no. 6, pp 559-562.



Disclaimer:  To anyone reading this blog, I am learning just like you.  Use my blog at your own risk.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Beast - A story of a angry hive

Okay, I want to fill you in so far on my dealings with The Beast.  The Beast is what I call my most aggressive hive.  In truth, I would not be surprised to find out that the hive contains Africanized Bees but it most likely contains an aggressive Caucasian verity found in Southern Mississippi.

At first I attributed the 30-50 stings per visit to the fact I had been rough with The Beast.  As I pointed out in a previous blog, I dropped it.  I also had to work roughly with it last year to loosen the propolis.  Then I thought that it may have been caused by using cedar chips in my smoker.  So I switched to pine.  Then I stored some (Unscented) dryer sheets with my with my pine chips - Dryer sheets are a non-pesticide method of dealing with Hive Beatles.  So I bought new chips.

No matter what I do, these bees sting me 30-50 times if I try to go any where near the brood chambers.  Oddly enough, they don't seem to mind if I take the honey suppers, as long as I don't go any further.

I have gotten fairly creative with my dealings with the hive thus far.  For starters, I normally like to work my bees in just a long sleeve shirt, hat and veil.  However, the bees sting me right through my shirt and jeans.  So I bought a full suit with zip on veil.  The bees didn't care and stung me right through that as well.

Next I came up with a really good idea.  I made a vest out of rope and zip-ties and put it on my under my suit.  This pulled the fabric up off of my body.  It worked great but the bees still stung my thighs and ankles.

 The vest did a great job of not only protecting me from the stings but also seemed to keep me much cooler.  Of course the second time I wore the vest, I wore a long-sleeve t-shirt under it for protection of my upper arms and that proved to be pretty hot.
The black spots are stingers I received in
only about 5 minutes.

I plan to make a pair of matching pants.  The rope cost about $6 and the zip-ties were about $1.  So it wasn't a very expensive fix.

Nonetheless, I have only managed to reduce the amount of stings but not prevent them altogether.

Next I had the bright idea to use a spray bottle filled with sugar water.  I thought that since it worked so well to keep the bees from flying when I first installed them, then it might work to keep the subdued until I could finish working the hive.

I mixed a spray bottle with 1/2 water and 1/2 sugar.  Then I began spraying the bees.  At first it seemed to work great.  As bees began to swarm I began to shoot them out of the air with a sugary mist.  I even sprayed the ones that landed on my suit.  However, the more I sprayed the more they swarmed.  And the more I sprayed the more coated I became with sugar water.

Before I knew it I was coated in sticky stinging bees.  My glasses were glazed over like a doughnut so I couldn't see anything.  It was a nightmare.  My only course of action was to run to the truck and leave the hive laying open.

I came back the next day, employing my wife as the getaway driver.  I suited up: rubber boots, jeans, long sleeve shirt, long gloves, TWO veils, and my suit.  I still got stung about 5 times and you can see from the picture above just how many stinger went into my suit.

I quickly put the hive back together and then dove into the trailer as my wife speed me off down the gravel road while I was being pursued by a legion of angry bees - still angry from the day before!  I nearly fell off the trailer twice while I swatted the bees away.  A mile down the road we stopped.  I sprayed off with some Raid and we drove on for another half mile.  Finally I was free of them and we went home.  That was three weeks ago.

I have given it a lot of thought and the hive has to be re-queened.  I am simply going to have to bundle up and get her out.  I'll let you know what happens.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Repairing Rotted Supers

On first inspection of my ruined apiary, I counted about 100 supers.  However,  I soon found out that the decade of neglect, water damage, and mice had destroyed nearly all them to one degree or another.  My friend Marvin reassured me that things were not nearly as grim as they seemed and encouraged me to try and replace only the bad spots in each box.

His advice proved golden as I have so far salvaged 63 of the supers for about $1 each in materials.  Here is how I did it.

Lets start with what they looked like:
Beyond repair
Medium Damage
Light Damage


A quick note on the roaches... DEAR GOD THERE WERE  A LOT OF ROACHES!!!  I'm not squeamish by any means.  I didn't mind the plethora of spiders or legion of sugar ants or even the gaggle of slimy slugs... but there is something so unsettling about roaches.  They crawled in my shirt and up my neck.  Eventually I could feel them even when they weren't there anymore.  It felt like that scene from Creep Show where the roaches start coming out of the guy's mouth.  Please hold while I shimmy......

Anyway, as you can see, the boxes were in rough shape.  Rather than just cutting out a 4"x4" square here or 8"x2" strip there, I instead cut 3 1/2" from one end to the other where ever the box needed repair.  This gave me a good solid foundation to nail to and didn't weaken the sides of my supers.  Like this:

The A005 is my 1st attempt at labeling hives for my records.
I think marking the lids will prove to be a better system.
In some cases this had to be done on all 4 sides since many of the boxes had been sitting directly on the ground for years.  In the cases where more than half the box was rotted or where an entire side was rotted, I placed the box in a different pile to be re-evaluted in a few days.

After cutting out the rotted spots, I used Elmer's Wood glue and 1 1/4" finishing nails to reassemble the boxes.  I didn't use any fancy joints (finger joints or dovetail or the like).  I simply cut out the bad spots, added new boards, and then glued and toenailed them into place.  Some boxes only needed a single board while others received as many as six.  I paid $2.70 for 1x4x8' yellow pine and was able to get 5 to 7 boards from each (depending on whether it was the long side or the short side.)

As you can see, I rushed the new boxes into the field without painting them first.  This was not by choice and will need to be rectified as soon as possible.  What happened was I ordered 8 new queens from Bordelon Apiaries in Gary, La.  Super nice people that managed to fit me in but then sent the bees to me 3 days early.  Since I was offshore when I ordered them and didn't get home until a day after the bees arrived, I was forced to rush them into the field.  (I'll post those details in a later blog.)

My point is that one of my newly repaired boxes was left in an upside down lid on my trailer (the little red one you see above) and already is showing signs of water damage.  So never forget to paint the boxes.

The moral of the story is that a rotted super is not the end of the world.  The new repairs seem just as strong as the original boxes.

I finished my repairs last Friday but by that night began to feel a burning in my sinuses.  My son had been mildly sick all week so I may have caught something from him.  However, there was mold in some of the boxes (I will bleach out later) and the table saw did disperse a lot of dust into the air.  Whatever the cause, I have been very sick ever since then and unable to get off the couch (which is given me time to blog).  In the future I will wear a dust mask when cutting old wood.

Disclaimer:  This blog is a journal and is only meant to share my experiences.  If you choose to use any of this information then you do so at your own risk.  That being said, do try to be safe.  On more than one occasion, my table saw cut through old nails that could have caused real injury.  Always wear the proper PPE and pre-plan your work.

Monday, June 8, 2015

The New "Bee"ginning

As previously stated I bought 50 bee hives in 2006.  At the time the plan was for me and my brother to go into the business together and build up to 1000 hives.  Since I worked offshore and was between wives at the time, I had a bit of disposable income.  So I put up the money and he put up the labor.

However, in 2007 my mother suffered a stroke.  Doctor's bills mounted and my disposable income dried up.  So the project ended with the first 50 hives (or 100 deep suppers and 30 hives of surviving bees).  From then on for the next 5 years I began living at sea (sometimes in other countries) for 10 months out of the year.  My brother went on with his life and with no steady flow of money, he left the bees in the field to do as they would.

In 2010 I remarried and slowed my work schedule down to one month away and one month home.  At a dinner later that year I asked my brother how the bees were doing.  He answered, "F*** those bees, they're all dead."  His answer was so abrupt and jarring that words still echo in my head to this day.  Between tools, wood, plastic frames, chemicals, and bees, I had invested $10,000 in those 50 original hives.  Nonetheless, I was too shocked at his comment to reply so I changed the subject.

In 2012 I went to the old farm where we kept the bees and found that three hives actually had bees in them.  My wife was instantly intrigued and so we began planning to make our first harvest.  And in 2013 we did just that.  We harvested the most delicious September honey I've ever tasted.  It was black as molasses but the taste was extraordinary!  In all, we filled 50 pint size bears and about 12 half -quart jars.  My wife and I were hooked.
And of course I got stung
on the lip - Again!

We also moved one of our hives to another location that year.  I made it a family event and took my two kids with me (my son Lee who was 15 and my daughter Whitney who was 17 at the time).  This was also the first time I had attempted to interact with what will be referred to from here forward as The Beast.

The Beast is my most aggressive hive.  On multiple occasions I have received over 50 stings at a time from The Beast.  The day we attempted to move the hives, we started by lifting The Beast into the back of my truck.  However due to my miscalculating the weight of The Beast, we dropped it (I thought it weighed 200lbs but it weighed about 400lbs).  I immediately sent my kids from the area and into the truck to hide.  Whitney got stung 3 times and vowed never to bee keep again, while Lee made it out unscathed.

However, I now had a hive of angry bees scattered on the ground.  I couldn't just leave it so I stayed and put it back together.  My kids said when I came out of the woods, I looked like something from a horror movie.  I was covered from head to toe with bees.  The smoker had no affect on them and so I began walking out across the field.

The real terror of being stung so many times is not the pain but the question.  "How many times can I get stung before I go down?"  I could feel them stinging me through my jeans and coat.  Anyplace that my protective clothing made contact with my skin was as vulnerable as if I were naked.  After about 200 yards I pulled a clump of weeds from the ground and began wiping the bees away.  30 stings... 40 stings... how many more could I take?  I walked for a mile before I was alone with 3 persistent bees whom I delighted in squashing to death with my gloved hands.  The thought crossed my mind that The Beast might just be filled with Africanized Bees (Killer Bees) but then again I had thrashed their home onto the ground like a hungry bear.  So maybe I had it coming.  I obviously didn't die but the stings did leaving me feeling achy and a bit feverish the next day - but no worse for the wear.

The following year I made my second harvest, this time taking the honey from The Beast.  It was late September this time before I could pluck up the courage to face it but I did it.  The bees did sting me once or twice but I got the honey without any really trouble.

So it became a hobby... but a hobby with a future plan.  See, beekeeping can be fairly lucrative (Though finically risky) given that you have enough hives to work and the time to work them.  So my wife and I began to set a goal of 10 years.  In 10 years, we would have the kids out of the house, our bills paid off, and be ready to start beekeeping on a full-time bases.

That was until March 2015 when I met Marvin.  Marvin is a professional beekeeper who, coincidentally, started keeping bees in 2004 (or there about).  In that time he has done quite well with 500 hives.  It was by a chance encounter with him that we became friends and he became somewhat of a mentor to me in the beekeeping world.  With his guidance I immediately began splitting my hives.  In March I had 3 hives, in April I had 6, and in May I bought 8 new queens and made my total hive count into 14 (though 3 of those are not looking so good.)

March - The start
March - First split

April - 2nd split
May - 3rd split and new queens

Now I am gathering up the ruins of my original 50 hives and trying to salvage what I can.  As of now I have 60 deep supers, 3 shallows, and approximately 1,000 plastic frames in fair condition.  The rest I lost to wood rot.  I gave my brother all the tools I had originally bought as a settlement of our original deal.  He no longer wants anything to do with bees, while I still think they are a good investment.

On May 15th there was one last problem to come up.  I was laid-off.  With fuel prices at $50 a barrel (down from $100) nearly 100,000 workers have been laid-off in the Gulf of Mexico since November. I did manage to get a short job for two weeks and that money (combined with my wife's income and my meager unemployment check will carry us through the year).  However for now, I am totally unemployed.  This throws a new hitch into my plans for moving forward.  Rather than being able to invest in my bees, I will now have to make my bees do all the work.  However, 60 deep suppers can make 30 healthy hives.  With a little luck and prayer I can produce enough honey to buy more equipment.  So this is my story.  We will see how it all works out.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Born To Keep Bees - My First Paid Publication

In 2006 I began keeping bees.  In 2009 I sent the following story to Farm and Ranch Living - It was published later that year.
David pretending to be stung - then he was actually stung.

Born to Keep Bees, 
by Wm. Bryan Layton

Apiology is a way to commune with nature while learning about the wonders of the tiny, cooperative, docile creatures known as bees – or at least that is what the brochures had led us to believe.  My brother and I had read a stack of books, watched countless videos, and downloaded every beekeeping website we could find.  All of them echoed the same two sentiments: “bees are simple to raise” and “good beekeepers can go their whole lives without ever being stung.”  If there is any justice in the universe there will be a special circle of hell for those people who uttered these erroneous notions.
As with all new ventures, preparation is paramount.  Bees must be ordered between November and December to ensure that the Apiary (the place where bees are raised) will have enough bees to supply the April orders.  Hive boxes must be constructed ahead of time as well, since the bees can only be kept in their transport boxes for three to five days.  However our real adventure did not start until the Friday before Easter. 
I traveled across the state of Mississippi to pickup the new addition to our farm, while my brother stayed behind to make the last minute preparations.  Since there were no beekeepers in our area, this was my first opportunity to visit a working apiary. 
The owner and his two helpers drove in from the fields in a flatbed-pickup truck loaded with individual boxes containing three pound of bees each (three pounds is the typical amount needed to start a new hive).  The men bailed out of the truck wearing only coveralls and began recklessly unloading the boxes, placing queens inside them, and closing them up with feeder cans of syrup.  In moments the entire area was swarming with hundreds of agitated bees flying by my head like Maverick buzzing the Top Gun flight tower.  I had brought a beekeeping suit and hood but instead of looking like an amateur, I na├»vely opted to go without. 
Any sense of bravado I may have mustered up was instantly lost when a bee lit on the edge of my nostril.  To say I was unnerved would have put it mildly as every muscle in my body instantly and simultaneously clenched.  Slowly I began to make my way from the work area but just as I was clear of the swarm, the bee that was now spelunking up my snout skewered me with what can only be compared to the sensation of tweezing a nose hair with a white hot curling iron.  Instantly my right eye began to uncontrollably pour water.  Looking like a professional quickly fell from the top of my list of ambitions, as I hunkered down next to the truck and struggled to regain my composure.  Finally the tears subsided.  I dried my face and with a “never say die” attitude I returned to the work area only to be stung on the arm, behind the ear, and on the mouth giving my lips a supple Angelina Jolie-like quality.  Eventually my truck was loaded and I headed back home, no worse for the wear.
            My brother and I felt that fifty hives would make for a reasonable test group.  Enough hives to see variations but not so many as to break our budget if this all turned out to be one big mistake.  This idea proved prudent as problems arose daily. 
First off, it was recommended that the bees be misted with sugar water before placing them in their new hives to make their wings sticky and prevent them from flying away.  The fact that it was 30°F on Easter day caused several of the hives to become, for lack of a better word, gooey and then die.  We also got stung a few times in the process.
Next, as per the literature we had read, we fed the bees sugar water in specially designed feeders that fit inside the hive only to discover that bees cannot swim.   A large percentage of bees gave up their life to prove this heartbreaking point.  We also got stung a few more times. 
On day three, unbeknownst to us, one of the queens flew out of her hive while we were feeding them.  That night her faithful subjects followed her out into the night air and committed mass suicide on the ground by means of exposure. 
For an extra fee I was able to get replacement bees delivered to my house within a few days.  Capitalizing on the lessons learned early that week, I placed the new arrivals on the front seat of the truck until after lunch to keep them warm.  Later that day I found that the greenhouse effect from the truck windows had microwaved the bees into what appeared to be tiny striped pieces of popcorn.  We also got stung a few more times. 
By the end of the first week we had killed so many bees that we began to expect hate mail from PETA and by the end of the first month we had sent forty percent of our investment to that big beehive in the sky.  While many brave bees gave up their lives for the sake of our education, we still strangely count this endeavor as a triumph.  Invaluable lessons were learned such as – foam packing peanuts make excellent bee lifeboats as well as the importance of always checking our beekeeping hoods for rips. 

Now with our first summer coming to a close I am happy to report that we have thirty strong healthy hives, an education that can only come from doing, and personal pain thresholds that would rival that of any sideshow act.  So despite our initial setbacks, we are now and forevermore beekeepers and will continue to expand our apiary.  Beekeeping was not exactly what we expected but few things in life ever are.
That's me in the foreground and my brother, David in the back.