Strengthening your Hive

As we all work to just survive these trying times, we will all have days that are highs and lows. But we are like the honeybees, if we all work together (in our case staying apart), we can have a stronger ‘hive’ for it.

From left to right, last spring: Hive #3, Hive #1, Hive #2

There are a lot of things that can negatively impact a honeybee hive: pests and diseases they carry, chemical toxins, and lack of resources. This is why it is extremely important for beekeepers to keep themselves educated. There are many opportunities to learn while we are at home and it is too cold to be messing around in the hives.

I spoke, last issue, about networking with other beekeepers. Currently, I am doing that only by email and texting, but there are some ways to learn from other keepers (especially if you don’t know any very well) while still maintaining social distancing.

Here are some learning opportunities we are exploring through Michigan State University:

Michigan State University YouTube videos from their Keep Bees Alive campaign with Meghan Milbrath

Find others by searching on YouTube for Meghan Milbrath.

MSU Apiculture Webinars coming up:

Established Colonies: Early-Season Management  

Thursday, April 2nd, 2020 at 7pm EST.

You may join the Zoom webinar online (recommended so you can see images) at or via phone: +1 -312-626-6799 (Webinar ID: 648-413-775).

This webinar is intended for beekeepers with overwintered colonies.

Supplemental material: MSU Bee Blog (subscribe for updates).

Established Colonies: Preparing for Swarm Season

Monday, April 6th, 2020 at 7pm EST

You may join the Zoom webinar online (recommended so you can see images) at or via phone: +1-312-626-6799 (Webinar ID: 343-539-256).

This webinar is intended for beekeepers with overwintered colonies.

Supplemental material: Swarms: the biology and control of swarms in northern states article

Dr. Kirsten Traynor, who visited Michigan in early March and spoke on the topic of Varroa mites at Dow Gardens, has made the first issue of her magazine about pollinators called 2 Million Blossoms available for download here. She also has some older YouTube videos about bees available.

Most beekeepers have by now evaluated their hives to see if they are alive or not. We knew our three Whiting Forest of Dow Gardens hives were alive when we checked in January and added food toward the end of that month, but we needed to take a deeper dive into the hives to evaluate relative survival size and reverse their brood boxes to redistribute their remaining resources (honey) to be more accessible. On March 12th, a beautiful 60-degree day, we suited up and broke out the smoker. All three Whiting Forest hives were alive and STRONG. Their stores were getting low. Especially light was hive number one, the middle hive, populated first last year. The boxes were really light and the last thing we want to happen is for them to starve while waiting for enough nectar to support all those bees, so we fed them for a second time.

I thought this would be a good time to share with you the method we chose to use to feed the bees while the weather was still cool. In the spring/summer, bees are fed (if need be) with concentrated sugar water, but in the winter it is best to not introduce more moisture to the hives as the bees can get extra chilled. We fed them with what I like to call ‘sugar cakes’ because that is just a fun name. It is essentially, sugar mixed with a very little bit of apple cider vinegar, a couple of drops of essential oil and just enough water to make it ‘packable’, like snow. I used my trusty kitchen aid mixer with dough hook and then packed the mixture into black plastic takeout boxes as molds. These dried for a day, then I unmolded them and let them dry for another day. These were inserted in the hives on top of the inner cover where the bees could access the sugar through the opening.