• Hive Gallery

    The Hive Gallery features photos of beehives, honey bees, honey . . . whatever readers have sent me. Explore

  • Cookbook

    Not for you, for them. Find recipes for all those tantalizing treats like sugar cakes, pollen substitute, and grease patties. Explore

  • How-to

    Find links to the most popular posts on how to do everything from building a frame to moving a hive. Explore

  • Glossary

    The glossary is constantly updated with definitions, acronyms, initialisms, and links to Wordphile discussions. Explore

Notice Board . . .

If you have pictures of your bees or hives you want to see on the Reader Hives page, please send them along. You can e-mail them to: rusty[at]honeybeesuite[dot]com. Please include a caption for the photos.

Lucky on guard

Lucky belongs to James, a new beekeeper in Nisswa, Minnesota. Lucky reminds me so much of the kitty belonging to Vivian and Craig Scott of Delaware that I just had to post his photo—same passion, same intensity, same zeal for the job. How does one get one of these jobs, I wonder? What are the qualifications? I think I need a new line of work.

Lucky hard at work. Photo by James.

Can I use mothballs in my hives?

No. Mothballs, whether made out of naphthalene or para-dichlorobenzene, are insecticides and insect repellents that have no place in a hive containing live bees. Several people have asked if putting the crystals in a bee-proof space—such as a net bag or wire cage—would keep the bees safe from contact. Again the answer is no because it is the inhaled gas that is poisonous.

Both of these chemicals, commonly used to treat clothes moths, work by subliming in a closed environment. Sublimation simply means the material goes straight from the solid state to the gaseous state. The gas, in an enclosed space, builds up to toxic levels that will kill moths and other insects. At lower concentrations, it acts to repel rather than kill the organisms, due to the unpleasant odor.

Since you neither want to kill nor repel your honey bees, you do not want these products in any hive that currently contains bees. Crystals of para-dichlorobenzene are often used in stored bee boxes to keep wax combs free of moths during the winter months, which is fine, but the equipment must be thoroughly aired before being used with live bees. The advantage of para-dichlorobenzene over naphthalene is that the odor will dissipate quickly. On the other hand, equipment treated with naphthalene mothballs may smell nasty for months (or years) to come.

Also, honey meant for human consumption must never be exposed to these products. Not only will it smell bad, but deleterious health effects are known or suspected for each. Both are listed as known carcinogens by the State of California, and para-dichlorobenzene is a neurotoxin. Naphthalene-containing products have been banned by the EU since 2008.

So use para-dichlorobenzene (such as Para-Moth) only for storage of boxes and frames.The best way to control wax moths in active hives is to keep colonies strong and healthy, and to provide no more space than the colony can effectively patrol. Colonies that have other problems, such as beetle infestations or Varroa mites, are more likely to fall victim to a wax moth infestation. Colonies with too many boxes for the size of the colony also easily become victims.


Nectar dearth and summer stress

Many of us are in a summer nectar dearth or are fast approaching one. Several things happen to your bees when days are hot and forage is scarce. Here is a list of management ideas that will make the summer less stressful for you and for them.

  • Honey bees short on water may decide to try the neighbor’s swimming pool or bird bath. Since this can put a strain on the relationship, put out some water for your bees. A bird bath with rocks, a bucket with a wet rag, or a drip irrigation line can all be used to slack the bees’ thirst.
  • Your bees may seem testy or even aggressive when you go near. Even though your colony was docile as a newborn babe up till now, it may suddenly seem hostile. This is natural when supplies of food and water start running low. Don’t go routing around inside your hive looking for what’s wrong. The way they see it, you are what’s wrong. Give them some space during this time, and they will resume their sweet dispositions when the days cool.
  • Beware of robbing bees. Bees from robust colonies may decide that the easiest way to stock the pantry is to steal supplies from a weaker hive. If you see evidence of robbing—bees wrestling on the landing board or fighting in the air—reduce the entrances of weak hives. This may seem counter-intuitive during a hot spell, but it could save your colony.
  • Provide lots of ventilation. Bees cool the interior of the hive by fanning, but for fanning to work, the air needs a place to come in and a place to go out. Since you may be reducing your entrance to prevent robbing, it is extra important to use a screened bottom, a screened inner cover, a slatted rack, or a small upper entrance.
  • Robbing bees are not the only critters on the prowl this time of year. Hornet and wasp populations peak in the autumn just when the honey bees are having a tough time finding forage. These predators love a weak honey bee colony because the adults can get honey for themselves and nice juicy bees for their offspring. Be careful not to spill honey near a hive and do not use entrance feeders. Small drips can bring hoards of predators to feed on your bees—another reason to keep those entrances small.
  • Beware of the Varroa mite population. With diminishing forage and shorter days, your colony will raise less brood and evict the drones. Overall, the colony size will decrease. The Varroa mites, however, remain strong. Without drone cells available they will use worker cells, and since the colony has fewer brood cells than before, the mites will cram themselves into the remaining cells. Varroa can easily overwhelm a colony this time of year, so it’s a great time for a sugar roll and mite count.
  • Bearding is common on hot summer days. Although new beekeepers often confuse bearding with swarming, they are not at all related. Bearding bees are merely gathering outside the hive to keep themselves cool and to lessen the heat load on the inside of the hive. The best you can do for them is make sure the hive has good ventilation. Other than that, don’t worry.
  • Experienced beekeepers have been through summer dearth before, but many newbee colonies are lost during the first nectar dearth that comes along. Why? Because the colony seems so robust and busy, it is hard to imagine things could change that fast . . . but they do. So be on the lookout for signs of summer stress and take steps to help your colony through it. A little bit of prevention goes a long way.