“Bee Math – How Bee Biology Can Enhance Your Operation” with Trevor Qualls

Biology of the honeybee — three main structures:  head, thorax, abdomen.

“Pollen press” — a muscle that packs pollen into the “bags”

Drones:  It takes 38 days to sexual maturity.  Will mate with virgin queens in DCAs (Drone Congregation Areas) in flight and then die.

Workers:  female, do not reproduce, 20,000-60,000 workers in a colony, live 4-6 weeks in the summer and 406 months in the winter.  If the bees are white and/or fuzzy, they are not hardened, are new hatches.

Queens:  One queen per hive usually, lays 1,500-2,000 eggs per day, lives 2-5 years (lives much longer if there are no chemicals present, natural hives = longer-lived queens), brood season is kicked off by the nectar flow.

He then presented a chart of the honeybees’ life cycles but I’ll just refer you to a similar chart here:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honey_bee_life_cycle with one additional note:  Once queen cells are capped on the 8th day, the colony will split/swarm.  Also, the warmer it is, the quicker the progression and, the cooler it is, the slower the progression.

Eggs – larvae:  Fresh = standing up, older = lays over, C-shaped = larvae, C-shaped with segmented rings = older larvae.

Pupae:  Lighter body, lighter eyes = not capped.  Darker body, darker eyes = capped.  Darker cappings = older pupae.

Adult bees – workers – duties:  1-3 days old:  clean, generate heat.  3-10 days:  nurse.  11-18 days:  nectar ripening and packing pollen.  Day 15:  starts secreting wax.  19-21 days:  guarding, ventilation, trash removal.

On Day 15, the bees will start secreting wax and really want to use it.  If you checkerboard at this time, you can help prevent swarming because you are giving the newly-secreting workers space to get their comb-building urges out.

Field bees:  Forage for protein (pollen) and carbs (nectar).  Much of the propolis (used for “caulking”) has been bred out of bees.  This is helping to cause more disease as propolis has many healthy qualities for the hive.  It takes 850 bees, 50 trips each, to bring back enough water to cool the hive in the heat of summer.  Place fresh water near the hives to make it quicker/easier on the bees so they can spend more time on nectar/pollen missions.

Differentiation of Sexes:  Workers — get royal jelly x 3 days, fertilized, light feeding of brood food, honey, & pollen.  Drones — get royal jelly x 3 days, unfertilized, heavy feeding of brood food, honey, & pollen.  Queens — get royal jelly x 3 days, fertilized, heavy feeding of royal jelly until capped.

Where do bees live, homes made of what, in nature?  Wood (plastic bodies and plasticell foundation is not natural, bees don’t like it — they have approximately 150 smell receptors), 1/4 to 3/8″ bee space in nature.  Combs have the rainbow pattern of brood in the middle, layer of pollen arched over that, and another layer of honey arched over the pollen.

Watch the layout of the frames/combs as you inspect your hives.  Be certain to replace them exactly the same way, facing the same way.

Know how to identify cells:  worker brood vs drone brood vs honey.  Once honey is capped, it’s ready for harvest.  If you have a high number of drone cells, that makes for a crowded hive & more mites.  Pull those out and replace with empties.

Drone cells are an early indicator of a new queen & swarm.  Take it as a sign to checkerboard the hive, use no foundation or just starter strips.

Don’t needlessly requeen, especially if you are chemical free.

2:1 sugar syrup does not stimulate laying.  In nature, 1:1.25 is what is found in nature so, in order to stimulate the queen to being laying, provide 1:1 syrup.

The queen has limited pheromone quantities.  That limits the size of the population as it can only go so far/long.  Once her pheromones begin “wearing out”, the workers will replace her.

In nature, bees prefer keeping 6-8 combs.  So what happens when we raise bees in 10-frame hives?  Frames 1 and 10 are usually left empty or rarely used.  Hive beetles, then lay their eggs in those areas undisturbed.  Keep bees in 8-frame hives and the bees will better protect against hive beetles and other pests.

Position of queen cells:  Swarm cells are made on the bottoms of the frames.  Supersedure cells are made in the upper half of the frame, when the queen is failing or has failed.  A hole in the side means she was destroyed.  A hole/flap in the bottom tells the workers to heavily feed royal jelly.

Bees have a three-day memory, then it “resets”.  Use this to your advantage when moving hives.  Screen the hive at night and move.  Be sure to feed (in the hive) & cool/vent them.  On the evening of the fourth day, unscreen the hive/let them go.

Comb is hexagonal.  Cells are built at 4-5 degree angle.  There are left and right sides to the combs.  Housel Position:  Each cell has a “Y” — either upside down or right side up.  The right-side-up Ys should face to the outsides of the hive.  The upside-down Ys should face to the middle of the hive.  The center frames will have upside-down Ys facing each other.

When inspecting your hives, be very careful to not roll the queen.  If you roll her, her ovaries can easily be damaged enough to no longer lay eggs, yet her pheromone levels are still high enough that the workers don’t always sense the need to replace her.

When brushing bees off of frames, hold the frame upside down and brush.  If you brush them with the frames as they are in the hives, you will be breaking bee backs against the upward angle of the cells.  Work with that natural angle, not against it, and you’ll lose far less bees.

Communication:  Bees have two dances — round and waggle.  The waggle communicates distance & direction — the longer the waggle, the farther the distance.  Pheromones are spread by touching.  Also, the Nasanov pheromone, used by exposing the gland and fanning, which is visible when installing packages and swarms.

My apologies for being tardy in getting my notes up.  The blog software has been giving me fits.  Also, I cannot embed links as usual so look for the corresponding websites scattered throughout.  You will have to copy & paste the URLs until the problem is resolved.)

The Missouri State Beekeepers Association held their spring conference March 21-22 in Lake Ozark.  John Timmons, president of the MSBA, and all of his henchmen/women kept things running smoothly throughout.

The program lineup:

“Bee Math – How Bee Biology Can Enhance Your Operation” with Trevor Qualls

Breakout Sessions:

  • “Managing Small Hive Beetles” with Jon Zawislak
  • “Natural Beekeeping in Horizontal Hives” with Leo Sharashkin
  • “Hive Management for Swarm Control” with Bruce Snavely

“Drones – The Forgotten Step to Better Queens” with John Seaborn

“The ABCs of Bee DNA: Understanding Honey Bee Genetics” with Jon Zawislak

Breakout Sessions:

  • “An Introduction to Small Cell Beekeeping for the Large Cell Skeptic” with Trevor Qualls
  • “Pollen as the Perfect Food” with Jane Sueme

“Natural Treatments for Hive Pests” with John Seaborn

“Advanced Hive Management … Beyond the First Year” with Trevor Qualls & John Seaborn

  • Jane Sueme:  http://isabees.com/
  • Bruce Snavely:  http://www.beekeepingadventure.com/
  • Leo Sharashkin:  http://www.horizontalhive.com/
  • Jon Zawislak:  http://entomology.uark.edu/JZ_-_CV.pdf
  • John Seaborn:  http://wolfcreekbees.com/
  • Trevor Qualls:  http://basprings.com/

During the breakout sessions, I attended Leo Sharashkin’s “Natural Beekeeping in Horizontal Hives” and Trevor Qualls’ “An Introduction to Small Cell Beekeeping for the Large Cell Skeptic”.  I’ll cover those presentations later on.  First, a few scattered general notes from the meeting.

All new beekeepers, having completed that year’s beginning beekeeping class anywhere in a MSBA-affiliated club will get one free year of membership in the MSBA.  Contact the MSBA and let them know — they should have a lists (or can obtain) of those who have completed the classes.

Throughout the state of Missouri, beekeepers are reporting upwards of 50% losses on average.  Due to both high losses both regionally and nationally this year, we are having a bit of a bee shortage.  Some are having to cancel orders for nucs and packages.

http://www.uaex.edu/publications/pdf/FSA-7075.pdf is a publication authored by John Zawislak, maybe similar to the presentation he gave during one of the breakout sessions?

Some changes are taking place at the state level.  Mainly, they are working to streamline memberships.  In the near future, they will be easier to manage and can be handled online for those who wish to do so.  The MSBA secretary is now the treasurer as well.  Bruce Snively, who was the interim director of the southwest region, is now officially appointed.

There were 152 attendees at the MSBA spring conference.


March 25, 2014

The March meeting of the Mississippi Valley Beekeepers Assn was called to order at 7:30PM by President Guy Spoonmore at the Farm Bureau basement in Quincy, IL.

Mia gave the Treasurer’s report of $1261.89 as current balance.  If you have not yet paid your 2014 dues, please do so at the next meeting.

Dale Hill is taking over the Secretary-Treasurer job from Mia.  Mia – Thanks for your years of serving our Association.

Dale reported on the Tri-State Local Food Network event at Quincy mall last Saturday.  We could have sold honey if we would have had it.  Dale made a presentation on honey bees to the group and talked to several people looking for honey and looking for people to put bees on their farms.  Contact Dale if you are interested.

Guy expressed congratulations to Dale on being appointed as Central Region Director of the Illinois State Beekeepers Association to fill an unexpired term until November 2014.

Diane discussed mentor program – if you need more info on this program, contact Guy.  Jessylyn, our sponsored new beekeeper from 2013, reported that her bees survived the winter and are active since it started warming up.

Russ discussed a program for tracking hives.  Keep notes on each hive yard and each hive.  Also use Dadant’s checklist for hive inspections.

Question was asked about mite treatment – treat if needed based on mite counts and hive exam.  Paul suggested checking drone cells in about a month and if there are more than 2-3 mites in several drone cells, then you need to treat.  Switch top and bottom boxes when there is plenty of brood and pollen in the top box.

There are several opportunities for pollination services near Durham, MO – pumpkins 5-10 acres.  Contact Bernie for more information.

Guy asked for volunteers to do short programs for our meetings.  Guy also passed around a list to sign up for swarm capture call list.  Diane can put those who want to be listed on the website.  Mike suggested that you make sure that you have swarm boxes ready if you sign up.

The Northeast Missouri Beekeepers meeting in Saturday March 29 at the Clark Center Courthouse 8AM-4PM, contact Randy Yort at 573-248-5561.

The Missouri State Beekeepers Spring meeting was last weekend.  Bernie reported there were speakers on small hive beetles and swarms.

Check MVBA website for equipment and management ideas.

Mike did a short program on feeders:  1) top feeder holds 2 ½ gallon, but too many bees drown even with the floats – can also use top feeders for bagged liquids and patties; 2) frame feeders hold about 1 gallon but also see a lots of drown bees, putting screens in feeders helps reduce drown bees; 3) front or entrance feeders – need to make smaller entrance restrictors; 4) feeder jars made from plastic peanut butter jars put on top of frames (a few very small holes drilled in lid, be careful not to have too many holes or holes too big or syrup will drip on bees), put empty super on top to protect jar, then inner and top cover.  There is also a commercial plastic feeder that looks like a small chicken waterer that holds 1 gallon of syrup that is also place inside an empty super.  Start feeding syrup once chance of freezing the syrup is past (or use feeders inside the hive).

Russ suggested using washing soda mixed with HOT water, then soak hive tools and equipment 15-20 minutes to clean propolis off equipment.  Rinse with hot water and dry with compressed air.

Question was asked about using pollen traps – Bernie said he does not use them and lets the bees store pollen as it is collected.  Bernie also mentioned a recent report of apple pollen being contaminated with 300 ppm neonicotenoids, and the LD50 for bees is around 3.5 ppm (dose at which 50% of exposed bees die).

There was discussion about our $16 dues – for Illinois residents, $10 goes to Illinois State Beekeepers Association dues; for Missouri residents, $15 goes to Missouri State Beekeepers Association ($20 for family).   It was suggested that our dues increase to $20/yr but no decision by the Association was made.

There was a question about hive location – need to block the Northwest wind in winter, face entrances South to get morning sun.  There needs to be a top vent to allow moisture to escape hive in winter.

Bee packages are scheduled to arrive the second week of April.

The next meeting is Tuesday April 28.

Meeting adjourned at 9:15 PM.

Submitted by

Dale Hill


P.S. – I plan to send out minutes as soon after the meetings as I can to those who have provided the Association with an email address.  If you no longer are a beekeeper and want to be removed from the mailing list, please let me know.  If dues are not paid by the April meeting, I will take your name off the mailing list of active members.


Don’t forget the meeting on Tuesday evening, March 25th.  Now that the time has changed, we will be meeting at 7:30 p.m.  (I’ve not heard from Guy yet to confirm that but that’s how it’s always been and I wanted to send out this reminder in plenty of time.)  We’ll be in the basement of the Adams County Farm Bureau building at 330 South 36th Street, Quincy, Illinois.

On a side note, the Missouri State Beekeeping Conference this weekend was wonderful!  I took a couple dozen pages of notes and will work on getting those up here over the next few days for those who were unable to attend.

Also, the Locally Grown, Locally Good Food Fest at the Quincy Mall on Saturday went over very well and had the highest attendance yet.  MVBA’s Dale Hill and Joe Zanger were both presenters at the event and MVBA had a table there.  Good job, guys!

See you Tuesday!

See Part 1 here.

Diana Sammataro dissected some of her bees and sent in the honey stomachs to be analyzed.  They found 13 new LABs (lactic acid bacteria).  (I didn’t catch if these were new, as in previously undiscovered, or if they were just not known to live in honey stomachs.)  All apis species have some LABs and novel phylotypes.

I just found her slideshow of Beneficial Microflora in Honey Bee Colonies online.  Please take a look through there — fascinating stuff!  This is a shorter version of the slideshow we saw during her presentation on Microbes & Fungicides.

Dr. Martha Gilliam did the original work at the Tucson Bee Lab.  When she retired, much of her work was lost or destroyed.

As in humans, bees are born with sterile guts.  They are then innoculated with the community microbes via feeding from nurse bees. This is called the “social stomach”.

Microbes also ferment pollen into bee bread.  Pollen cannot be digested by bees.  It must be fermented first.

Microbes produce antibiotics, fatty acids, enzymes (aids in digestion), yeasts, & vitamins.

Wax contaminants — 170 now found.

Diet, pesticides, etc influence the social stomach.

Tobacco Mosaic Virus now found in some hives.

Center for Pollinator Research at Penn State.

In 1100 samples, only 7% lacked pesticides.  Researchers found 129 pesticides and metabolites — 51 of those were systemic pesticides.  They averaged 31 per sample.

How do pesticides get into the wax?  Through contaminated water (farm runoff is horrendous in our area), beekeeping practices (various treatments we beekeepers put in our hives), and corn (bees bring back contaminated pollen — see below), etc.

Corn does not give nectar but bee love corn pollen — it’s not nutritious, however.

For the most part, pesticides are fat soluble.  That means they end up in wax, pollen foundation, brood food, etc.  That also means that they are not found in honey — mostly.

Bees will forage within a 3.7 mile diameter in normal times.  In a death, they will forage 6.2 miles.

Then she talked about the California almond crops and some sampling & research done there.

Almonds must be sprayed (fungicides) while in bloom.  So, of course, fungicides are in the pollen and bee bread.

About one million hives sit in holding yards for months, awaiting the almonds.  That means stress and less healthy colonies.

Beekeepers get about $250 per colony for almond pollination.

Some fungi are good — they inhibit other fungi that would cause harm.

More fungicides were found in the organic samples than the conventional ones.  (The conventional almond crops’ sprays drift over onto the organic crops.)  The team could not find any “clean” samples for comparison.

Questions remain, and more research is needed, on the synergism between all of these contaminants within our hives.

That’s the end of my notes.  Again, I apologize for the incomplete notes.  :-)  

BeeSpeakSTL hosted Diana Sammataro, author of The Beekeeper’s Handbook, at the University of Missouri – St. Louis on March 1st.  Once again, they did a wonderful job of organizing this!

Topics included:

  • Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Mites
  • Honey Plants
  • Microbes &Fungicides

My notes were not up to my usual obsessive standards.  I found her mite talk so fascinating that I found myself just sitting and letting it wash over me, soaking it in, rather than taking endless notes.  (BeeSpeakSTL has promised a copy of her slideshows.  I will post a link here when that gets put up.)  So, with that in mind, here are a few highlights:


The Carl Hayden Bee Research Center, located in Tucson, is Diana’s current hangout.

Acarology is the study of mites.  The University of Ohio offers acarology programs that Diana highly recommends should you wish to delve further into the itch-inducing world of mites.  (I dare you to sit through a slideshow of mites without scratching endlessly for the rest of the day.)

Young mites have six legs while adult mites have only four.

Within Acari, there are two (or three — see the wiki article) superorders:  Acariformes and Parasitiformes.  Combined, there are over a million of different species.  Only one of those are human mites — the hair follicle mite.  (Although, wiki states that there are two.)

(Are you starting to scratch yet?)

Most (all?) mites are symbiotic but we are not yet aware of the “hows” and “whys” for most of them.

Bee mites — many are benign.  Three of them are parasitic (varroa — size of a flea, tracheal — 400x smaller than varroa, and tropilaelaps).

Ticks and varroa mites are very similar, both are Parasitiformes.

There are four species of varroa (wiki states five) but we are mainly concerned with Varroa destructor which was first discovered in the USA in 1987.

Effects of varroa mites:

  • Hemolymph consumption
  • Changes in bees’ immune systems
  • Introduction of viruses (18 now identified)

Tropilaelaps spp. is the third bee mite about which we must worry.  It is not yet in the USA but it is coming.  Its life cycle is similar to varroa.  It outcompetes varroa but it must have brood.  It cannot use adult hosts, therefore, cannot easily survive our winters.

Tracheal mites:  Diana uses “grease patties” to defeat tracheal mites.  1:2 shortening:sugar ration.  Use only white sugar and do not use lard — must use hydrogenated shortening of some sort.  Place a hand-sized patty on top of the cluster in late summer/early fall.  Or you can choose to not treat and raise resistant queens.  Or requeen in the fall (disrupts the breeding cycle, I believe?).

Fall colonies must have:

  • A large population of young bees
  • Be free of varroa
  • Ample food stores

Miscellaneous links for further reading:

The sunshine is calling me.  Part 2 coming later…


Note from Guy:

To All MVBA Club Members:

At both the January and February club meetings we reminded club members that, if they wanted to order package bees thru the club this year, they needed to inform either Bernie or myself by the day of the Beginning Beekeepers Class, which was yesterday, March 1, 2014.  Very few current club members have put in an order for bees.  If you want to order bees, you need to contact me by email ASAP today!  I am contacting Bernie this afternoon with the total number of packages that have been requested as of this time.

President, MVBA

If you don’t have Guy’s or Bernie’s contact information, let me know and I’ll get it to you ASAP.

(You must be a member of MVBA to get in on this group buy.)

Don’t forget this month’s meeting coming up this Tuesday evening at 7:00 p.m.  We’ll be in the basement of the Adams County Farm Bureau building in Quincy as usual.  See you there!

Congratulations to Michael R. of Monroe City!

We spread the word about the sponsorship opportunity via 4-H, FFA, ag teachers, etc and it really paid off.  This year, we had eleven entrants (compared to last year’s one)!  Tracy put all of the names in a hat and had her four-year-old daughter, Gabby, choose a random one.  Thanks, Gabby!

While the other ten entrants may not get the equipment and bees provided, they are certainly still welcome — and encouraged — to join us anyway.  Mentorship is always available to anyone.  Just show up at one of our meetings and say, “Hey, how do I get started?”

Don’t forget our beginning beekeeping class is coming up next weekend.  March 1st, from 9:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m.  Cost is $30 per family and, let me tell you, you get a whole lot of bang for your buck!  That cost includes local club membership, state club membership, the class itself, a basic beekeeping book, door prizes, breakfast, and who knows what else they’ll throw in?

Hope to see some new faces there!  Michael, the club is looking forward to meeting you — and your family!


A new year, a new beekeeper!

As discussed at the January meeting, we are now beginning our search for a new young beekeeper to sponsor.  We’ve designed a couple of flyers to help get the word out.  Please feel free to download and/or print and distribute these as you see fit.

MVBA Sponsorship Flyer Younger Kids

MVBA Sponsorship Flyer Older Kids

MVBA Sponsorship Flyer Details