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Monday morning myth: no-forage zones

The myth goes something like this: bees will not forage within a 25-foot radius of their hive because that is the “cleansing area”–or restroom, if you will. This is nonsense.

The rumor probably arose when beekeepers watched their charges fly right past flowers within inches of the hive only to alight on something in the distance. Remember that honey bees practice floral fidelity, meaning they want all the pollen collected on one foraging trip to be of the same species. If there aren’t enough flowers of one species near the hive, the bees will fly on to a place where there are many similar flowers.

There are other reasons, too, that may cause the bees to ignore your carefully tended near-hive plants. Something else may be sweeter, more attractive, or fresher than those plants. Also, plants have nectar flows during different parts of the day. Buckwheat, for example, only secretes nectar in the mornings, so bees ignore it in the afternoon.

When all conditions are right, your bees will happily forage within walking distance of their front door. So if your hive sits in a vast field of clover, and that clover is freshly bloomed and secreting nectar, the bees will collect it.

Related to this argument is the fact that bees don’t necessarily defecate within 25 feet of a hive. One look at my truck, which is not anywhere near a hive, illustrates the point. It is polka-dotted yellow with bee poop about eight months of the year.


Monday morning myth: freezing won’t kill wax moths

Contrary to popular hearsay, freezing will kill all life stages of both the greater wax moth (Galleria mellonella) and the lesser wax moth (Achroia grisella).

To kill the moths, you must monitor both time and temperature. For example, the Mid-Altantic Apiculture Research and Extension Consortium (MAAREC) publishes the following guidelines to kill both species of wax moth:

20 degrees F for 4.5 hours or

5 degrees F for 2 hours.

Similarly, the Department of Primary Industries in Victoria, Australia advises

-6.7 degrees C for 4.5 hours or

-12.2 degrees C [10 degrees F] for 3 hours or

-15 degrees C for 2 hours

These numbers convert exactly. Nevertheless, beekeepers come up with all kinds of wild stories about freezing them for weeks on end, only to have the caterpillars start crawling around when the frames thaw. Don’t believe it.

Here are some points to consider if you freeze your frames for wax moth control:

  • Check your freezer temperature with a reliable thermometer—don’t depend on the dial.
  • Measure times from the point when the frames, combs, wax, or super reaches the desired temperature. Don’t start timing from the moment you put them in the freezer.
  • Remember: if you return thawed frames to a super that was not frozen, re-infection can occur immediately.
  • The same is true if you return frames to an area that contains adult wax moths, such as a storage building or honey house.
  • If you wrap frames tightly in plastic wrap before freezing—and leave them wrapped afterwards—you can protect them from re-infestation. Wrapping also keeps condensation from forming on the combs and frames while they return to ambient temperature.

Freezing times don’t have to be exact as long as you meet the minimums. For example, my freezer is 9 degrees F. I just wrap my frames in plastic and freeze overnight . . . or over 30 nights. There’s no need to create an ordeal.

One reason the myth persists is that some beekeepers have reported that wax moths survived the winter in their hives in spite of the fact it was less than 20 degrees for weeks on end. This is most likely true because it is not 20 degrees inside a healthy beehive. The cluster keeps the wax moths warm and cozy all winter long. But as long as the colony remains healthy and strong, it will destroy most of the moths as it expands in spring.

So just remember, wax moths are not an inexorable pest destined to take over the world—they are both predictable and manageable. When the day comes that they can drop me in the freezer, then I’ll start to worry.


Monday morning myth: bees need a front porch

Whatever you call it—landing board, alighting board, or front porch—bees do not need one. Hollow trees, attics, and eaves hardly ever have landing boards and neither do swarm traps.

In fact, if your landing board is constantly wet or covered with snow, it can be a definite negative. Bees can get their wings “stuck” in water and be unable to right themselves. Snow accumulation on the porch can cover up the opening, preventing egress from the hive and reducing air circulation. Landing boards also provide a convenient platform for some predators such as mice.

On the other hand, bees will use landing boards to hang out in hot weather and, curiously, to land. If they have one, they will almost always use it.

If you like to watch your bees come and go, a landing board is a great thing. It gives you, the observer, a bit more time to see the bees before they enter the hive. They land, walk to the entrance, then quickly disappear. But during those few steps, you get to see the color and size of the pollen loads, and the distended abdomens typical of nectar-carriers. You can see if they are young or old, if they are male or female. Sometimes you see a queen returning from a mating flight.

Interesting things come from the hive as well: rejected pupae, bees with deformed wings, malformed bees, injured bees, diseased bees. Without a landing board these things often drop straight to the ground and you’ve lost a good opportunity to learn about your colony’s health and activities.

So while they are by no means necessary, I think landing boards are a plus—especially for the beekeeper who is mesmerized by colony life.


Coming in for a landing

Monday morning myth: attendants must be removed from queen cages

Many beekeepers believe that you must remove attendant bees from queen shipping cages before you introduce a caged queen into a hive. They believe the queen will more likely be killed by the receiving hive if both the attendants and the queen have a foreign odor.

This simply is not true. If you install the caged queen properly, the attendants will cause no problem. Before long the queen’s pheromone will circulate throughout the hive. All the bees—as well as the attendants—will then smell the same.

You can install the queen and her attendants by simply putting the shipping cage near the center of the brood nest or cluster. For best results, the hive should have been queenless for at least 24 hours prior to installation. You can then just stick the shipping cage into the wax comb on one of the frames with the screen side open to the bees. Make sure the candy end is up and the cork end is down.

After several days, the worker bees will chew away the candy plug and release the queen into the hive. By then, the pheromone will be well distributed and the attendant workers will be absorbed into the colony along with the queen.

The bigger risk to the queen—especially by inexperienced beekeepers—may result from trying to get the attendants out of the queen cage. Queens have been lost, injured, or killed by well-meaning beekeepers who wrongly believed the attendants were a threat.

For more information on queen introduction, Strachan Apiaries, Inc. has a succinct little write-up on its website. Their instruction sheet specifically states that it is not necessary to remove the attendants. And you can trust them. After all, they are in the business of providing quality queens to beekeepers . . . and they don’t want them destroyed.


Monday morning myth: clipped wings prevent swarming

The myth goes something like this: If the queen’s wings are clipped she won’t be able to fly. If the queen is unable to fly, the swarm will return to the hive and stay with her.

In truth, the clipped queen may attempt to fly anyway, then fall to the ground and be unable to get back home. The swarm will return home briefly, but it will soon try again—often taking off with a recently hatched virgin queen.

In addition, clipped queens are often superseded more quickly than those with whole wings. The workers probably see these queens as “defective” and work to replace them as soon as possible. In other cases, clipped queens have been allowed to remain with no apparent consequence. You cannot tell in advance how the workers will react to an imperfect queen.

In any case, clipping is not nearly as popular as it once was. For a time, clipping was used as a way of dating the age of the queen. The right two wings were clipped on even years or the left two on odd years, but this practice has been replaced with a dot of colored paint or a number. Clipping performed by an inexperienced beekeeper can end in disaster, especially if the beekeeper accidentally nicks the thorax or snips a leg—so leave your queen intact and find some other way to reduce swarming.