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Beekeeping FAQ

One of our mentors, Bruce Trescott, has agreed to place the questions he receives via email here along with the answers.

In his talented, and most capable, hands this page will be a good resource of information. You can email Bruce directly with your question(s) or use the Beekeepers FAQ Form. Ask Bruce A question

Q. In mid- March, my lower two bottom brood boxes are connected by wax and brood, how do I inspect the hive without tearing these cells and destroying the brood?

A. The wax between the boxes is exactly normal, the frames are for the convenience of the beekeeper, the bees don't care about our convenience, they use all of the space.  Because the space is small and not part of the other comb, they usually put drone brood there.  This is a good place to look for mites on the drone brood when you take the boxes apart and the brood is exposed.  Don't let that little bit of wax and drone brood prevent your inspection, it will tear but they don't need it.

Q. In mid-March, my hive is very heavy and full of bees but they are not using the honey super, wazzup?
A. Because the nights are still cool, the bees hesitate to move up away from the brood, they will start using the super soon.  No worries, everything sounds 'normal'.


Q. My hive was active in January.  On first inspection in the middle of February, I found it dead, a few dead bees and some spotty dead brood.  What happened?

A. We usually can't diagnose after the event, but here is a thought that meets the evidence (spotty dead brood) -  At this time of year, the queen is supposed to start laying eggs to replace the bees that died during the winter, a weak queen (spotty brood) will not be able to replace the workers that are needed to keep the new brood and cluster warm enough and a downward spiral starts - the brood gets chilled so there are fewer replacements which causes more brood to chill which makes fewer replacements and so on until the whole thing can get chilled.  The very windy cold wet of early February may have been to much.  So even with stored honey, the small remaining cluster could have chilled and died in place leaving the spotty brood to chill and die in place.


Q.On 2/9/2015, I'm looking to order my first packages of bees from Noble in Dixon. They have a few options I am not too sure about. First is they offer to clip the queen. Is this just so she cant leave the hive when introduced? Next is marking the queen. What are the benefits of this? Third is you can order more than one queen per package. Why would you need to do this? As you can tell I am new at this so any help would be appreciated!

A. First let me suggest that you order your package through the club, save yourself the trip and get our installation demonstration on package pick-up day..  A very few folks still clip wings, this is an old method to try to prevent swarming, nothing to do with the installation of a package.  Yes, a marked queen is very handy, she is easier to find but more importantly, you will know when she is superseded (an unmarked queen will take over).  The second queen is for those folks who have an established hive that they want to split.  You don't need an extra queen.


Q. I like the Buckfast race of bee, does it do well in El Dorado county?


You probably know more about the Buckfast than I.  The only thing I've heard is they are little better in the cold and damp.  Not really important in our area.  More important is the concept of allowing bees to adapt to your local micro climate.  This means that you start with your Buckfast and then don't introduce any new commercial queens into your apiary.  If your Buckfast survives, then swarms or supersedes, you allow the resultant virgin to mate with the local survivor drones and soon you will have your own local survivor stock.  Doesn't really matter what you start with, if it survives and her daughter queens mate with survivor drones it will soon end up as local survivor stock.  Many years ago, I requeened with bright orange commercial Italians and have not introduced any more commercial queens since.  Now, my queens are all different colors, few of my queens are still orange, most are brown or reddish brown, some are even black as they have taken on the genetics of the local survivor drones.  I'm not saying there is a correlation between color and survivability, just that a variety of colors shows that there is some genetic diversity as opposed to the commercial orange Italian.  (yes, I still get all mushy about a big bright orange Italian, but what ya gonna do)

just my opinion


Q. I am a new beekeeper anxious to get started, where, when, how, and at what cost do I get the hives?

A.  Here it is January 2015 and temps are running 10 degrees above normal and it feels like spring is in the air but mama nature is fooling us!  The short answer is that the club will have available everything that you will need at the time that you need it.  The stuff will come from mannlakeltd.com and will be priced about the same as in the catalog.  The best advice is to ask you to wait until after the class on February 7, 2015.  To many of us get excited or anxious and get the supplies before having a good understanding of what is needed.  This is the information that the class is designed to provide.  You will have plenty of time to get what you need either from the club or from your own provider.  There is no actual 'beekeeping' for beginners to do until March and most folks don't get their bees until April.  The club usually provides equipment in February and March at classes and meetings.  The club then provides bees in April.  The club does get $ from sales and asks for your support.


Q. Winter feeding

A. The short answer - Established hives rarely need to be supplemented at all, especially during the winter.  They are clustered tight and not doing much, leave them alone.  If they don't break cluster to use the supplements, the patty will spoil and the syrup will ferment.  If they do break cluster and use the supplements, they may expand the brood nest when nature really wants them to stay dormant (dormant is not the perfect word but you get the idea).

Rest of the answer - Many beginners get confused about feeding (which we perfer to call supplementing) because when they started their new hive from a swarm, package or nuc, we recommended a lot of supplementing, especially when started on foundation.  The same supplementing is usually not appropriate for established hives.  The bees are much better at knowing when to use their stored food to expand the brood nest.  Here it is late December, if we were to supplement them now, they would think that spring had come early and start building up.  They would get to big, to soon and run out of stores before the real spring arrives.  Commercial beekeepers getting ready for almond pollination do that specifically for that reason but they also have to monitor it carefully and continuously.  Ask them how much fun it is to feed in the cold and rain.   The rest of us should wait until March when nature is ready to support the hive.  Then most established hives will be getting all they need as they need it.  Sugar supplements are usually reserved for starting new packages and protein supplements are added when they start producing the brood that needs to be fed before they have a good enough field force to provide enough pollen on their own.


Q. Eqipment

When and where can I get equipment this winter.  Cost?

A. Here it is late November, most hives are consolidated into two deeps and excess equipment stored.  The bees have been fattened for winter, the enterance closed down, the lid secured and the hive protected from the wind.  There is nothing left to do until after Valentines Day.  Every book tells us to use this time to re-educate ourselves and to clean, repair and procure next season's equipment.  Good advice but only the most diligent beekeeper will do any of this so the club is not set up to help with any of this until Valentines Day.  At that time we can help with all of this,  We will have classes for all levels of interest.  The club store will be open at every class and meeting.  Last season we supplied everything you need in a ready to use cofiguration and we expect to do the same next spring.

Cost - We get our supplies from Mannlakeltd.com as a private party paying retail with tax.  Last year we added a 10% premium to support the club which is justified by the added convience of local shopping.  Next spring, we may do the same or the suppliers may be treated as vendors.  Either way, you can be assured that your club will make it easy for you to get the information and equipment you need as you need it.


Message: I have 1 hive that has 2 deeps and 2 shallows (nothing in the shallows). the bottom is full of brood etc and looked fine last time I checked. The 2nd box is also full of comb and various stages of honey. Yesterday I wanted to put in the follower boards suggested at the last talk, and I could barely lift the 2nd box off, to access the bottom. I think I want to switch out the 2nd deep to 1 or 2 shallow boxes that can be lifted when full. When and how can I do this? the box is full with honey (for winter I presume) so i can not see that I can just replace it with an empty shallow.What if I insert a shallow between the two and remove it next spring after the honey is consumed? 2nd question: There are so many bees that I can not see any of the brood frames (reason that i added the supers to the top). Is it too late in the season to split the hive?


A. Good thing you asked. You could have messed up what sounds to be a perfect situation. At this time of year, (late summer and fall) it is vital that you don't disturb the design of the nest. They are in the process of pushing the queen and brood down in the nest. As bees emerge, the empty cells are used for honey storage instead of being reused as brood cells so that just before winter, the amount of honey is maximized and the brood is minimized and the honey is right where they need it. Any disruption is a burden on them, especially putting a shallow in the middle of the nest, the cluster needs to stay in contact with the honey in the top box.  It is about time to put those empty shallows away for the season, the bees need to concentrate their efforts in the bottom boxes.
It sounds like your hive is perfect and doing exactly what it should be to prepare for winter, how did they get so smart. Yes, you want that huge population today so that they can support the development of 'fat' bees, the last generation to emerge before winter. These 'fat' bees are the ones that last all winter and raise the first generation of brood in the spring. Yes, it is way to late for splitting the hive. Splitting can only be done while the brood nest is rapidly expanding, when the bees want to make new queens and when there are lots of drones available for mating. Of course, it just happens to coincide with swarm season (March - April) since swarming is nature's way of making a split. We just piggyback on nature's idea.
Yes, you can change out the equipment in the spring. In the spring, they will naturally be near the top of the nest and the nest will be much less congested so you will be able to make adjustments then. After you place a shallow on top in the spring, they will naturally start using it as a brood box and after awhile you can take the bottom deep out from under the stack as it will be the least used at that time. You are basically doing what the old timers used to do with 'reversal' in the spring, moving the empty box from bottom to top. The alternative, (since you mentioned splitting), is to place a shallow between the brood boxes (ONLY IN THE SPRING, ONLY WITH A STRONG HIVE, AND ONLY WITH THE KNOWLEDGE THAT YOU ARE CREATING A BREAK IN THE CLUSTER). A strong hive will bridge the gap and start using the empty shallow, this could be an advantage as it avoids congestion in the brood nest that could have led to swarming. After they start using it (about three to four weeks), you can split it and the bottom deep off. Alternatively, you can split the double deep hive in March - April and put a shallow on top of each of the deep splits.
And, as a club member, we can provide or even trade equipment if you decide to go with just shallow equipment.


Q: My dead-out is infested with wax moths, how do i save it and can i reuse it?

A: First, clean out the worst of the cocoons and webbing.  Then set the box on it's end so that the light can get in.  Orient it so that the sun doesn't hit the comb directly and melt it.  The light will keep moths from reinfesting it.  After the current eggs, larva, pupa and moths have emerged and gone you could leave the boxes out like that but it is unsightly.  So for storage, you can stack the boxes on top of moth balls.  These are the same moth balls you get at walmart or target in the closet section, PARA in a blue box.  The 10 ounce box is enough for a six foot stack of equipment.  I'm not sure that it gets rid of active moths after they are in the comb, it is used as a preventative.  Note that if moth balls come in contact with plastic frames, the moths balls will 'melt' the plastic.  Next season, a light cleaning to get the worst of the webbing out and the bees will clean and repair the rest.


Q: Do bees get 'hot' when it gets hot?

A: (OPINION) Many of you participated in springtime inspections of new hives without hats, veils, or smoke and none of us got stung.  When inspecting big established hives, I usually only get stung 'accidentally', not because the bee is angry or aggressive.  Now it's June and on very hot days, I have been getting stung just walking near an apiary.  In addition to the guard bees at the hive entrance there are guard bees that patrol the area around an apiary and yes, I think that when it gets hot, they get 'hot'!

Q: Small Hive Beetles in El Dorado County?

A: I haven't seen them here yet, but am getting reports.  I believe that they are here and will do more research.  I saw them 10 years ago in Florida and it was so bad that I thought that for me it would be 'the last straw', but now I think that it is 'just one more thing'.  East coast beekeepers don't seem to get to worked up about them.

My nephew is a beekeeper in North Carolina and here is his opinion - We do have problems with Hive Beetles here in the Carolinas but I don't treat for them.  The biggest thing is to keep hives strong and the bees can keep them in check.  When pulling honey you have to extract it pretty fast, you can't store it for several days before it's extracted or the beetle eggs will hatch and they will make a huge mess.  I have seen them slime frames within 48 hours.  There are some treatment options out there that work well, they make a Beetle Barn that you can put roach poison in. The beetles can go in but the bees can not. Also the oil traps work for knocking populations back. Adam

My brother is a beekeeper in Florida and here is his opinion -  Do away with all your flat covers, the space between the cover and frames is perfect for beetles but not enough room for the bees to chase the beetles out   I put a rim around all my covers and it solved a lot of the problems  The beetles themselves don't do much damage, it's their larvae that crawl through the combs that make a mess.   Jamie


Q: How Long To Feed Package?

A: It is now late May, packages are 7 weeks old.  Most of your packages are now established hives, a few have or are ready to make surplus, a few have or are ready to swarm.  May and June see the primary honey flow in the foothills, when the bees get the most nutritious mix of pollen and the most surplus nectar, much of it from Toyon.  We don't supplement established hives, especially not when it would get stored as pseudo-honey in the surplus super.  All the talk we do about feeding bees is actually for stimulating wax production in a NEW hive, not feeding per se.  No more feeding until September when we might feed protein supplements to help them produce fat bees for overwintering.  If your package is not an established hive now, something went wrong and feeding will not fix it.  If they can't make it on their own when conditions are perfect, they just can't make it. 

Q: How many queens in a colony?

A: Raise your hand if you're sure that every hive has one queen.  Way back in the olden days, I had an in-the-wall observation hive and noticed two queens working within just a few inches of each other.  I reported it to Eric Mussen at UCD, and he suggested that it might be more common than we think because after you see a queen in a hive, of course you stop looking, therefore you would not see a second one.  Still, a two queen hive is a rare and transient situation.  Today, I was catching a swarm and while watching the mass move toward the entrance, was happy to see a big orange queen join the queue, but then, right behind her, I saw a smaller, yellow, virgin looking queen.  I grabbed her up but then had to second guess myself, did I really see two queens or am I holding the only queen the swarm has.  Good news is that before putting the one-in-the-hand back, I saw the first one again as she walked inside.  I kept the second queen in a cage while I inspected my other hives just in case I needed a queen.  I didn't, so I used the second queen to make an additional hive that I don't need.  Say "must be nice!"


Q:  While starting my new package bees on foundation, I am finding some comb being drawn in columns away from the frames, sticking the frames together.

A - This is burr comb, it is niether usual or unusual, it is just something that happens sometimes because the bees do not know what direction you would prefer them to draw the comb, but it is not acceptable. If there is a lot of brood, pollen or nectar that the hive needs, move the bad frame(s) towards the outside with the idea of getting them out when they are no longer being used so much. If the bad frames are not being used much yet, replace them. Yes, getting that many frames started properly in a new hive is sometimes tough, but the good news it is, you only have to do it once. In the future, you will only have to start a frame or two at a time and they will be sitting between drawn combs which will make it much easier to draw the new frame properly. Remember that it takes a lot of energy to draw comb, provide supplemental syrup just to make sure they have enough energy to build comb quickly. They seem to build it better if they build it quickly.


Q – Having been chased out in the fall, where do the drones come from in the spring?

A - As soon as the colony becomes active in the spring, they start thinking about reproduction of the colony super-organism by swarming. As the queen starts ramping up production of big numbers of 1000's of workers, she also 'chooses' to lay some hundreds of drones. Even when full of sperms, she can still elect to lay some unfertilized eggs to ensure the continuation of the species. These drones will be available to the Drone Congregation Area in less than a month, just in time for swarming season. In the DCA they will fertilize the neighbors' virgins, they try not to mate with their own, but since the neighbors' bees are doing the same thing at the same time in the same place, it all works out.


Q – How do you recognize CCD while it is happening?

A - There is really nothing to see at any particular moment in time; CCD is characterized by a rapid decline of adult bee populations while everything else in the hive looks fine. By keeping good records, we can observe that a good looking hive is not building up as it should and then we would notice a downward spiral in population and the corresponding decline in general hive health as it stresses out without enough adults to provide warmth and nurture. That is why it is so hard to recognize while it is happening. The result is usually what we go by to designate a collapse as CCD.


When is feeding sugar usually done?

1 - Young hives on foundation
2 - Emergency due to poor planning or severe spring weather. Sometimes a hive will build up so fast and so early in the spring that if a cold or wet spell occurs, there will be to many mouths to feed for the available stores in the springtime hive. Remember that the 60 pounds of honey that lasted all winter only did so because the colony had shrunk to an overwintering cluster, without much brood, not the rapidly expanding 1000\'s of bees that are emerging hungry every day in the spring.
3 - Commercially, to trick the bees in to thinking that it is spring so that they build up in time for pollination.


If you are installing packages in the spring, after the trees, weeds and wildflowers have begun to bloom, you don’t need to feed protein patties UNLESS there are no blooms within flight distance (3/4 mile) or there are way too many colonies for the carrying capacity. On the other hand it doesn\'t hurt to have a patty available, especially if there is buckeye pollen in the area. If you are drawing foundation or foundation-less combs from scratch, then plan on feeding about one gallon per week of 50% sucrose syrup until the combs are well drawn out. The nectar flow will influence how long that takes.


The screened bottom board is about 15% effective. It will not control the mites in a susceptible colony. It is mostly a monitoring device.

Using drone comb - Be judicious with this plan. As long as you conduct drone removal in a timely fashion, it will help some, but only another 15% or so. If you fail to get there in time, the colony will generate about four mites from every mother mite on drone brood, instead of the 1.3 mites from every mother mite on worker brood. Get the drone comb back out about 18 days after you put it in, it is vital that the mites don\'t emerge with the drones in the hive at 24 days.

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