Beekeepers Beware!

What a crazy summer we’ve had here in the Piedmont area of Georgia.  The daily temps have been soaring for months now, the humidity living up to the old adage “you can cut it with a knife”, and we’ve had more rain than in the previous years of drought.  While these conditions are excellent for plant growth, they also provide an excellent environment for increased populations of insects.

I was talking with Bill Owens yesterday.  Bill has been my beekeeping mentor over the last couple of years and he teaches classes on beekeeping here at the farm.  Bill is the highest certified beekeeper in GA and is a 4th generation beekeeper.

I’ve been receiving phone calls regarding unusual bee activity.  I had a hunch and asked Bill if he would verify my summations.  The stories I was hearing went like this….

“I went in to check on my bees and everything seemed fine.  Buttoned up the hive and came back a few days later to find the bees all over the outside of the hive and not going back inside…  or the hive was empty and full of larva.”

My conclusion after a couple of these accounts – when the hive was opened, the hive beetles were released and they  wreaked havoc in the hive.  Remember, the bees run the beetles to the top of the hive and capture them in little prisons they make from propolis.  When the cover is taken off the hive, it releases all those beetles.  The bees were not able to keep up with the overload of beetles and larva and absconded – left the hive because the conditions were unsuitable for them.

Bill confirmed my summations and verified the influx of the hive beetle in this region.  He too opened one of his hives and found thousands of beetles inside.  Bill said that in all his years of beekeeping, he’s never seen it this bad.

So what do we do and how do we know if we have a problem with hive beetles in our own hives?

Signs to look for:

1. If you have a screen bottom board on your hive and the bees are bearding and hanging all over the outside of the hive, this could be a potential sign of a problem going on inside the hive.

2. If you have a solid bottom board and the bees are bearding and hanging all over the front, this could be indicative of a problem or those bees are just too hot.  It’s a guessing game at this point.

What do I do if I suspect a hive beetle infestation?

If you suspect the invasion of hive beetles, your best bet is to remove all of the bees from one hive and transfer them to another clean brood box.  If possible, find the queen and transfer her – this will help the rest of the hive to follow.

Shake the bees into the new box and then leave them be.  If the honey from the first hive has been destroyed, you’ll need to feed the hive with sugar water.  More than likely you’ll have to feed all winter since the nectar flow is over and there’s not enough time for the hive to store enough honey to keep them alive over the winter.

If your bees are hanging out all over the hive, you may not have much time to do the transfer.  By the time we see the bees all out front, the conditions for them have become almost unbearable and they will be leaving soon.

Be sure to use a screen bottom board on the new hive if possible to avoid further problems.

It is possible to treat the hive with chemicals but there are  other side effects that you will have to deal with if you go that route.

Once the bees have been moved to their new, clean home, take the infested frames and stick them in the freezer to kill the larva.  I’ve also put frames on Fire Ant hills and let the ants do the clean up work.

Please remember that your bees are a little irritable to begin with this time of year.  There are lots of them with very little work to do since the nectar flow is over and it’s been hot.  A smoker and extra clothing might be a good idea if you’re going to have to move them.

What if I’m not 100% sure there’s a problem?

I don’t think anyone can be 100% sure either way when looking at their hives.  You’re trying to make your best guess and proceed from there.  Err on the side of caution if everything still looks “normal” and DON’T OPEN THE HIVE! If the bees have imprisoned the hive beetles, you’ll only release them when you take off the cover.

This is the time when curiosity may not only kill the cat but your hive also :)

When would it be safe to go into my hives again?

Bill suggested that you leave the hives alone until after Labor Day.  However, if our temps in this area don’t significantly decrease even around Labor Day, wait until they begin to start cooling off.

Once you are able to check on the hives, it would be a good idea to help the bees with their house cleaning by dusting the frames with powdered sugar.  The dusting “dirties” their home and the bees go into major cleaning mode – cleaning the insides of cells and each other.

I hope you find this information helpful and that none of you have experienced any problems thus far with the small hive beetle.  Please, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask.  If I can’t answer the question, I have a personal “hot line” to Bill….well, not really but he’s very good about getting back to me when I leave a message.

This has been a crazy season for beekeeping!  First dealing with all the swarming that went on this year and now the invasion of the small hive beetle.  New beekeepers, don’t be discouraged.  Just think how much you’ve learned in your first year.  This part of beekeeping is really what makes the honey that you harvest taste so sweet :)

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