Dealing with SHB the Kelley Way

Small_hive_beetle

If you see me, smack me with your hive tool! You’ll be glad you did!

Last Fall a Mennonite beekeeper from Pennsylvania brought down some hives to overwinter on a local farm. He called me on the phone to find out about what he needed to watch for with his bees here in Georgia. Naturally, Varroa mites were at the top of the list. When I mentioned Small Hive Beetles (SHB), he said he had never seen them before. I responded with a chuckle, “well, you will soon enough!”

Though normally credited with having come in through Florida, it is also thought that they may have first been introduced from the ports of Savannah, GA. or even Charleston, S.C.. No matter where their port of entry, SHB are now just a normal part of beekeeping here in the Deep South.

We’re now beginning our 4th season in beekeeping and I have to say that, so far, we have never lost a colony to SHB.  For us the SHB have only been an opportunistic nuisance waiting in the wings for something else to go wrong so they can take make a mess.

In this post, I want to share some of my experiences on how we’re handling SHB. None of this will be ground breaking or revolutionary, but the point is, controlling SHB doesn’t have to be difficult or impossible.

IMG_0331

SHB don’t like colonies like this!

Strong Colonies:

This is your first line of defense! In order to keep SHB from getting the upper hand in your apiary, you need strong colonies. I have seen hives with literally hundreds of beetles on and under the inner cover of a hive and the colony doing just fine. With a robust population of bees, there’s plenty of bees available to corral the beetles and keep them in check.

Full Sun:

From what I’ve seen, hives kept in full Sun have no where near the number of SHB as hives I have seen in shady areas. I know it’s tempting to place a hive in the shade because of how hot it gets here in the Summer, but this makes your colony more attractive to SHB. Rest assured, the bees know how to air condition their hives, but they won’t do well with putrefying frames filled with hive beetle larvae!

Traps and Hive Tools:

If I’m going to take any action at all against SHB, I do so normally by use of trapping them using a Beetle Jail and/or crushing them with my hive tool if I get half a chance. Whenever I acquire a hive with lots of SHB, I take a minute to crush all the SHB I can with my hive tool and then place one or two of my Beetle Jails in the hive and put the lid on. After a couple of weeks, the SHB population will end up drowning in the oil mixture and then I remove the jails. It’s easy as that. No need for Check-Mite or drenching the ground with the GuardStar pesticide, or using illegal treatments such as Combat roach baits.

Fire Ants:

Aethina_tumida

These disgusting little things are worse than the adult beetle!

Okay, so you’ll probably never read this in any book as being an ideal way to handle SHB, but we are blessed/cursed with an abundance of fire ants in this area and I have noted that the hives with ant beds under the stands have fewer SHB. It has lead me to conclude that the ants do help control any SHB larvae that finds its way out of the hive and onto the ground to burrow and pupate.

The natural question is don’t fire ants cause the bees problems? I’ve had some problems with fire ants in my queen nucs, but I’ve not had too many issues with ants in my strong 10 frame hives. I acquired a hive last year from someone that had been sitting in the midst of a huge ant bed and the bees were doing just fine: 9 frames of wall-to-wall brood in the deep hive body with 2 shallow supers full of honey on top!

Rethink Pollen Patties:

Okay, I’m not saying NOT to use pollen patties or substitutes, but in areas with a heavy SHB presence, just slapping on a patty and walking away can cause SHB to get the upper hand. I’m not big on using patties, but I have been told by local beekeepers that you must be watchful or the beetles will lay eggs in the patties and begin to make a mess. If you’re going to use patties, try cutting down the amount you put on at one time so the bees can consume it more quickly giving the beetles less time to set up shop.

Removing and Freezing Frames:

This is another thing you won’t see in any books, but in the worst SHB infestation I ever saw, the beetles had occupied and overtaken nearly half of a hive, taking refuge in a bunch of empty drawn comb. The bees were on one side in the top super and the SHB almost everywhere else. It was almost like trench warfare during WW1, each side waiting for the other to cross no-man’s land. The good thing was that the beetles hadn’t gotten into the honey stores. In that case, I went through the colony removing all the empty frames where the beetles were lurking and stuck them directly into my deep freezer. I maneuvered the other combs into a more suitable situation for the bees.  What was previously a 3 medium box configuration was reduced to 2 mediums. Now the bees had less area to patrol and fewer beetles to deal with. The reason I put the frames in the freezer was because I knew all those beetles would find their way back into that and other hives unless they died. Frozen beetles = problem solved!

Late edit: 

Diatomaceous Earth

I forgot to include this when I first posted this article, but I have used Diatomaceous Earth  (D.E.) under and around my hives to aid in controlling both the SHB larvae and fire ants. With the frequent and extended periods of rain we had last Summer, I am not sure how much it helped as it got washed away soon after application. I keep my hives mostly on pallets now, so it’s hard to get the D.E. under them now. I know one beekeeper who uses rock salt, but I’m not a Roman conqueror, so I think I’ll pass on this idea. 

Conclusion:

And there you have it! That’s the Kelley way of handling hive beetles. We now have 45 hives and I inspected all of them last weekend. I would guess I didn’t see any more than 5 beetles scurrying around in any one of our colonies.

Please feel free to leave comments on what you are doing or what has worked for you.

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It’s 2014!

Just a quick update to wish everyone a Happy New Year and to announce that our fundraiser ended with a total $1270.00. We grateful to those who contributed and will be putting those funds to work to make 2014 our biggest and best year so far!

 

Help us grow. Help the bees!

I would like to share with you our indiegogoHelp us grow. Help the Bees!” Campaign.

Honeybees today face more threats than ever. Every year beekeepers face an average loss of 30% of their colonies. We lost 25% of our colonies this year, some have lost a much larger percentage.

We often meet people who are concerned and would like to make a difference, but don’t know what to do. Perhaps they cannot keep bees themselves due to their location or just don’t have the time for a new hobby.

Kelley Honeybee Farm was founded by Rhett Kelley in 2010 with the goal of becoming a multi-generational family operated apiary. We started with just 4 colonies in our backyard and have now grown to 38. We were recently featured in a local newspaper article and met with Congressman John Barrow to discuss the issues facing us as well.

Your contributions will enable us to expand our apiary debt free and have resources available for when times come that swarms or colonies need to be rescued.

How we will use the funds if we meet the goal:

  • Establish and maintain 10 brand new colonies in 2014.
  • Enable us to purchase colonies from beekeepers who decide to downsize or need to reduce their number of colonies.
  • Provide funding for supporting swarm and feral colony rescues.
  • Purchase a portable observation hive and educational materials for use in community education projects.
  • Purchase and/or refurbish equipment to support expansion and the 2014 honey harvest.
  • Covered storage area for our equipment.
  • Website upgrade.
  • Upgrade our locally adapted queen bee rearing program.

The Impact

Your contributions will help us expand our apiary debt free instead of going to a bank or the government farm programs for funding. Your contributions will help to produce healthy bees that produce honey of the highest quality and purity as you will see when you receive the honey we send you at harvest time (U.S. donors only, but possibly other nations if regulations do not prevent the importation of our honey).

Perhaps you are one of those bee friendly people who have severe allergies to bee stings or cannot keep bees yourself for various other reasons? This is one option for you to be able to help the bee population directly. We will put your generous contribution to work for the bees in your stead.

Because we have managed to avoid debt and expand thus far in a very cost conscious manner, we will be able to make your contributions to have a bigger impact for less.

Those who sponsor us will have their name or their business/organization name posted on our sponsor page on our website.

More about Kelley Honeybee Farm

Our philosophy in beekeeping is to avoid using chemical pesticide treatments for common apiary pests. We rely upon integrated pest management techniques and organic treatments to keep problems to a minimum.

The secret is out that much of the honey sold in U.S. supermarkets is illegally sourced honey from China where many chemicals and antibiotic treatments are used that are illegal in the United States. Our honey is as natural as it gets; never adulterated or cut with corn syrup, pasteurized, or filtered like the honey you find often in grocery stores.

Associations and Affiliations:

Other ways to help:

Even if you cannot contribute, sharing our campaign with others would be a great way to help us find people who may be able to contribute.We’d even appreciate prayers for our family, this funding campaign, and for the success of our apiary.

Kelley’s Meet the Congressman

John Barrow

Rhett and Cordell with Congressman John Barrow

On Saturday, Cordell and I attended Congressman John Barrow‘s “Congress on the Corner” meeting in Metter. There were a number of other topics discussed, but as the meeting wrapped up I was able to speak one on one with the Congressman about a few issues that are of concern to many of us in the beekeeping community. He was open to learning more and said he would like for us to send information to his office on those things which are of concern so that he may be better informed.

My grandmother once said “you catch more flies with honey than you do with salt,” so we gave Congressman Barrow a bottle of our wildflower honey. I wasn’t sure he could accept it, but he did so eagerly and said that he was allowed to receive the gift as it was in promotion of a product from his District.

If you look at a map of Georgia’s 12th Congressional District, you’ll find it is home to 3 of the larger apiaries in the State. With such a large apicultural presence in the District, it would behoove those of us who live here to make sure Congressman Barrow is informed on issues that are important to beekeepers.

Reading in prep for 2014

25 hivesFall is upon us! Though the bees are slowing down, I’m already plotting and scheming for Spring 2014. We have equipment that needs painting, frames that need foundation, and still awaiting a half dozen or so more colonies that we’re obtaining soon. This will put our apiary at or above 30 colonies for this Winter.

If we don’t have too many Winter losses and start more colonies in the Spring, we will be managing over 4 times as many hives as we did this past Fall. That’s a big difference! I want to be ready to make the most of next season. I want 2014 to be bigger and better, in hopes that we will actually have enough honey to meet our demand and have some to sell throughout the year.

Part of my preparation for Spring 2014 is that I’m currently reading a book called Beekeeping With Twenty-five Hives: From Passion to Profits, by Grant F.C. Gillard. The book is the 2nd title I own from this author, and was a gift from a friend. It is, in my opinion, one of the most helpful books on beekeeping in my small library thus far.

What I like about it is that’s not written as a bland how-to manual. In it Grant shares with you his experience growing his apiary. You read of his highs and lows and ups and downs. He shared mistakes he’s made and points out things you need to consider when growing from a hobbyist to a side-line beekeeper. It’s rather “pastoral,” which makes sense because the writer’s vocation is pastoral ministry.

At 472 pages, there’s quite a bit of information to digest. I’m nearing the half way point now. By now, it’s almost as if Mr. Gillard is a 2nd mentor to me. I’m very happy that he’s taken the time to write this and I heartily commend it to all beekeepers who desire to grow their apiaries to the size of 25 colonies or more.

Rhett’s Beginning Beekeeping Tips #2

We’re continuing on in our series of tips for beginning beekeepers. In the first article, my tip for would-be beekeepers was to study like crazy before ever spending a dime on equipment or bees. I believe this is the first, most important tip for anyone interested in keeping bees.

Yet, after all I emphasized in the first article about studying bees, I must now let you in on a dirty little secret: Bees don’t read the books to know how they’re supposed to act! Sooner or later, your bees are going to do something totally unexpected, even if you’ve done everything the book says. When that happens, you’re going to need some help and advice. So that leads us to the next tip:

Tip #2: FIND A MENTOR!

You can memorize all the books I previously listed and watch every video on Youtube, but you need someone with experience to help guide you through and be there to answer questions during those times the bees (or hive pests) are doing something you can’t remember reading about in the books. Even with all the reading and Youtube watching I did before getting my bees, I’ve still asked countless questions of my mentor, Bobby Colson of B & G Honey Farm.

If you can, I suggest finding someone local with many years, even decades, of experience keeping bees. For as the Bible says,

Bobby Colson, teaching a bee class.

Bobby Colson, teaching a class.

“Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days.” Job 12:12.

You’ll be amazed at all the helpful advice you will receive from an experienced mentor. If you run into a problem, chances are he may have dealt with it countless times before. He’ll teach you little tricks and techniques he’s picked up over the years.

If you can find one who also sells equipment and bees, then so much the better. When you stop by to purchase equipment or supplies, you can talk shop for a bit and learn even more. He benefits from your patronage, you benefit from his experience. It’s a win-win.

One of the things that’s really difficult to learn from books is botanical information on what plants are growing and when the nectar is flowing for your specific geographical area. This is one big reason to find a local mentor. He can help you in this area more than anyone else. Admittedly, this area of beekeeping is probably where I’m the most ignorant.

As far as where to find a mentor, I’d say the best place to start would be at a local bee club or association if there is one in your area. There you can meet beekeepers, listen to discussions, and ask questions. If you don’t have a local club or cannot locate one, look for signs advertising local honey and then try to track down the source. Beekeepers are often willing to help newcomers, but if not, keep looking.

Be friendly and do your homework so you’re prospective mentor can tell you’ve really been trying to learn all you can. Maybe see if they would like some help in the bee yard sometime. You could learn lots just by watching them work.

That’s it for the 2nd installment in this series. As always, if you have any questions or feedback, feel free to leave a comment.

Rhett Kelley

Rhett’s Beginning Beekeeping Tips #1

In my interactions with people, I meet many who are intrigued by honeybees and say that they’d like to start a colony.

Getting into beekeeping was something I wanted to do for at least 15 years before I started. Back when I first became interested, I didn’t have a computer. Youtube, Blogger, WordPress, and Facebook didn’t exist, so even if I did have a computer, learning what I needed to do just to get started and networking with people in the bee business was much more difficult than it is today.

I’ve decided to write a series of articles for our customers and friends who may be interested in starting hives of their own. I want to share some incite and some observations that may be helpful. Some things will be simply my opinion, which you may or may not find useful. Whatever you do, please pay careful attention to this first tip because I think it is most essential:

Tip #1: STUDY. STUDY. STUDY!

I cannot emphasis this enough! I read at least 3 books on beekeeping before I ever placed my first order for a package of bees. Additionally, I watched hours of beekeeping videos on Youtube. I encourage you to do the same. If you’re going to keep bees, you need to have some basic knowledge of bee biology and bee behavior burned into your brain.

If you don’t invest time here, your experience keeping bees will be short lived and not very enjoyable. Learn the information so well that the first time you open your hive of installed bees, you can automatically spot worker bees, drones, and the queen. Know what brood, pollen, and honey looks like stored in honeycomb. Learn to tell the difference between worker brood, drone brood, and queen cells. Be familiar with all the common bee pests and ailments, and various treatment options as well. Learn what triggers the swarming impulse and symptoms of queen failure. That’s just a start. There’s much, much more.

It’s just like they used to say on the G.I. Joe cartoon: “Knowing is half the battle.”

You wouldn’t believe the stories I hear about eager, would-be beekeepers who skip this first, most important step and then end up in a mess when they get their bees and have no clue what to do, or what the bees are doing. I’ve even heard of people ordering queens from queen dealers, expecting that the lone queen is enough to start a new colony all by herself. That tells me somebody didn’t pick up the first book on beekeeping! Beekeeping isn’t a cheap hobby to get into, so learn all you can so you’re investment isn’t in vain.

As far as beginning resources go, I always point people to the book Beekeeping For Dummies. It was the first book I ever read on the subject and I have recommended it to others more times than I can count. It’s chock full of good information and I think ever new beek should have a copy.

A must have for new Beeks!

A must have for new Beeks!

From there, I would suggest the following titles. This is not an exhaustive list, but just some books I’ve found helpful. Some are beginner level, some more advanced:

I always say that if you ask 5 beekeepers a question, you’ll end up with at least 6 opinions. This is true when it comes to all the resources above. You’ll find general agreement on some topics and some strong differences of opinions too. I like to take all the viewpoints into consideration and do what works best for me.

One other resource I want to mention is the Brushy Mountain Bee Farm Youtube Channel. I have benefited greatly from their webinars and I think anyone interested in beekeeping would do well to spend some time watching their videos. These are free and very informative.

That’s it for my first tip. I hope this is useful. I am writing this on July 1st, 2013. Package bees won’t be available again until Spring 2014, so if you’re interested in keeping bees, I encourage you to spend the rest of the Summer, Fall, and Winter learning all you can.

If you have any questions, comments, or would like to suggest other resources, please feel free to leave a comment.