Thursday, August 18, 2011

Ghosts! Hive Check: Week 12

This week I took the hive check slow and easy so a film crew could capture the action. Which means my second solo hive check was caught on film. It wasn’t always a pretty picture but we got it done!

The day got off to a slow start. A miscommunication about equipment left me with 20 minutes to find a stand-in smoker and all of my bee people were out of town or not picking up the phone. So I did what anyone would have done—I went up to Eagle Street Farm, transplanted purple basil seedlings while waiting for Annie to get back to open farm day on the roof, and got Meg’s OK to borrow their spare. Added bonus, Annie uses dried herbs for fuel so I bought a packet of tarragon and sage from the farmstand and fired up the smoke gun with Brooklyn’s finest herbs de provence. Lucky bees.

Made it to the roof but with no jacket and no hive tool (Word to the wise: sharing equipment is awesome until it’s not. If you’re jointly managing hives, git your own gear) but since the bees were pleasant and hadn’t left any propolis to speak of, I had no problem pulling the frames out bare-fingered.

Hive #1 held no surprises. The recent super is being drawn out nicely, almost to the external frames. The brood pattern is incredibly tight although I didn’t see as many babies in the center frames as one might want. This hive (Tim’s hive) continues to create wonky, bumpy, psychedelic wax-- unlike the precise, pristine, craftsmanly comb that hive #2 (my hive) draws out. If dog owners and their pets grow to take on each other’s traits, the same seemingly holds true for beekeepers.

There wasn’t much need to go into the bottom super, and the hive had already been open a long time to give the filmmakers a chance to shoot closeups, so I left it alone. But ladies, really. Stop building brace comb in the feeder. There’s a nectar and pollen dearth. Don’t cut yourself off from your food!

Didn't manage to get a good pic of the tight brood pattern but here's one of the penultimate external frame, which is mostly nectar/sugar water.

Before we move to hive #2 I have an announcement. I have settled on a name for the hive and the queen.

Literal, glam-rock loving woman that I am, this hive shall be known as Queen.

God save Freddie Mercury

Since their first album was eponymous and the second was Queen 2, I’ll either keep numbering them ad infinitum or name the third “Sheer Heart Attack.” The queens themselves will take the names of songs, because with long names they’ll sound like racehorses. This queen is now known as Lazing On A Sunday Afternoon. For one, we do a lot of Sunday inspections. Two, were this queen human she’d be a quaintrelle; interested in a life of leisure and cultivation of an aristocratic lifestyle although being solidly middle-class. Perfect embodiment of the song! And I like to imagine her bicycling, waltzing to the zoo, painting in the Louvre, and doing all the other things the dandy does in the song.

So how is Queen Lazing doing? Well, predictably. These ladies haven’t made many inroads to building up into the top super, or building out in the bottom super. I did see her, and many of her little eggs, but the eggs were in a spotty, devil-may-care pattern. The brood pattern was weak too, in the top and bottom supers both. Oh Queen. Where’s the energy? Where’s the passion?

Nothing to see here

But beyond that I got a nasty surprise looking at frame 7 of the top super. Ghost bees! A small cluster of fully developed bee babies were stuck in their cells, nearly-completely uncapped, white as sheets. It wasn’t a dusting of white—they were white to the bone. Er, exoskeleton.

I ain't afraid o no ghosts.

See 'em?

What would cause this? The phenomenon is known as “bald brood” which is a blanket term for a lot of things that could go wrong. Here’s my email to TimO after doing some looking into it.

ooookay! I looked through a lot of sources and given what I observed I do believe it's early stages of wax moth infestation. that's based on:

-- localized occurrence that we hadn't seen before till now. if it's behavioral or genetic why would it be in only one area, and take so long to appear?
-- wax moths usually come in from the top (so good prevention is a top screen) and occur when the bees have too many supers to adequately monitor. that's not unreasonable given the slow comb drawing of hive 2.

the good news:
-- i didn't see more than this patch. no evidence of destroyed comb or spiderwebby moth larvae. it's probably either in its early stage or the bees will take care of it soon. but i'd rather err on the side of early intervention rather than waiting to see

available treatments:
-- deweb, remove ghost brood, freeze for 2 weeks. Recommendation: pain in the ass, my freezer is tiny, i don't buy it.
-- certan (aka b401). it's basically what organic farmers use as an alternative to chemical insecticide. it's just concentrated bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) which is as you no doubt are aware is one of the more common things to put into a GMO (so the plant produces its own insecticide) but in natural form it's quite harmless. Will not hurt the bees, the applicator (i.e. us) or the environment. Recommendation: Ask Kirk Anderson if it's really as benign as people say it is, and get it on there asap. Mabye one of our friends in brooklyn has some they'll give us if we replace it so we can get it on there asap instead of waiting for a delivery from BeeWorks in Canada. I'll gladly foot the $23 canadian dollars
-- ParcidiChlorBenzene. AAAAGH! RUN AWAY!
-- additional precaution: make a moth bait. exactly like a fruit fly bait. put it over in one of the corners of the roof a little away from the hives. water, vinegar, sugar, banana in a 2-liter soda bottle with a hole up near the neck. to help make sure the infestation doesn't spread. and if we catch moths we'll have a positive ID that there are moths in the vicinity. Will also lessen moth population to avoid spreading into other hive.
-- consider sanitizing equipment when moving between hive 1 and 2 (or just always do hive 1 first). consider sanitizing equipment before going to Added Value.

Tim texts back:
Probably not a problem. I’m not sure I buy the wax moth theory of bald brood. They eat cocoons, not wax, and usually travel in the midrib.

And then he texted me a picture of his family’s lake in Canada where he was spending the weekend, and the conversation dropped. So stay tuned for the next episode of the Case of the Ghostly Bees, in which the mask comes off and our villain, present from the start, says he would have gotten away with it if it weren't for you darn kids.


  1. Emily, nice photos of a rare condition.

    You are correct about this being a slightly obscure sign of wax moth problems. We covered this in class, but I don't know if you and Tim made it to that class.

    If you remove and dissect the bald brood cells, you will very likely find wax moth fecal matter in the cells, and perhaps in surrounding cells.
    The wax moth fecal matter is how researchers were convinced that wax moth are the cause of the problem.

    You can send Tim to an old "Bee World" article on this by P. Milne , "Wax Moth and Bald Headed Brood", from 1942 (Vol 23, pp 13-14) Since then, there has not been much more said, as there is not much more to say.

    Asking Kirk about BT401 would be like asking Jenny McCarthy about Measles, Mumps and Rubella Vaccine. :)

    The most common solution to a bad case of this is admit that one has a weak hive, and requeen. That said, I've yet to ever see a "bad case" of this.

    jim fischer

  2. Hey Jim,

    Thanks much for weighing in! Go figure that was the class I missed. Weak hive is probably the true culprit. Tim's considering combining hives or requeening like you said. He's gonna go see them this weekend and see for himself.


  3. The essential point here is that we had a lousy year for queens due to bad weather, a spring that was all but missed due to bad weather, and we now face a race to feed, feed, feed just to get the new 2011 colonies up to a population and weight that can over-winter.

    If you need protein supplement, don't be shy about asking. I've seen too many people feed all sorts of sugar or HFCS, and forget that pollen and pollen supplement are just as crucial to "the bees that will raise the bees that will overwinter".