Beekeepers of the Bitterroot

Meeting Notes

September 9, 2017


Brood Minder – Jaylene showed the wireless beehive telemetry toy device she acquired at the Western Apiculture Society conference she attended in Davis, CA last week.


Scott Debnam from the University of Montana attended this meeting. He reminds us that we are the bees’ keepers, not their masters. He then answered many questions:


Getting hives ready for winter

  • We’ve been helping our colonies to prepare for winter all summer by providing them with plenty of room for brood and honey, and by monitoring and treating for pests and diseases.

  • The bees are primarily responsible for readying themselves for winter, not the beekeeper.

  • Guard bees in strong colonies do an excellent job of keeping out wasps and yellow jackets (and drones!) at this time of year. Weaker colonies are vulnerable to robbing; adding an entrance reducer makes the guard bees’ job easier.

  • Entrance should be reduced in October or November to keep cold wind out. If you use a screened bottom board, put on a solid bottom board.

  • Bees need at least 100 pounds of honey in the hive to survive the Montana winter.

  • Wrap hives with a layer of #30 roofing felt in November. Multiple hives can be pushed together and wrapped as a group.

  • Condensation/humidity inside the hive is not much of a concern in our climate.

  • Scott regularly overwinters with hives with 3 deep boxes. He explained the bees will heat their cluster, not the entire cavity.



  • Nosema apis results in visible spotting (feces) in the hive.

  • Nosema ceranae has no visible symptoms.

  • Both types can be diagnosed microscopically and treated with Fumigilin.

Monitoring for varroa mites

  • Monitor frequently throughout the season and treat only when needed.

  • Treatment threshold is 40+ mites on an entire sticky board in 24 hours. This threshold is the same no matter the time of year.

  • Scott does not recommend treating unless the threshold is reached. “Give the bees a chance to toughen up.”


Treating for varroa mites

  • The product you use to treat mites will depend on your situation and the time of year.

  • Oxalyic acid should only be used when no brood is present.

  • Apiguard cannot be used with honey supers on.

  • Mite Away Quick Strips can be used with honey supers on.


Signs that a hive is being robbed

  • Erratic flight patterns outside the hive

  • The erratic bees are not defensive

  • Sticky footprints at the entrance

  • Torn cappings on the bottom board or around the entrance

  • Yellow jackets coming and going freely

  • If a colony is being robbed, install an entrance reducer so the bees have a smaller space to defend.


Forest fire smoke

  • Bees will stay close to the hive, won’t forage much and will eat their stored honey during periods of heavy forest fire smoke. Scott recommends we feed our bees now.

  • During regular weather, 15 POUNDS of bees leave the hive each day to forage. Compare this with only 2 pounds of bees that go out to forage during periods of heavy smoke.


Bees with attitude

  • Bees can be crabby in the fall. They have lots of stored honey to defend and have probably lined their boxes with propolis. They get mad when we mess with these things. Forest fire smoke can have an impact as well.

  • Extreme behavior changes may indicate that the colony has requeened itself.

Pollen substitute

  • Scott does not recommend fall feeding of pollen substitute for hobbyists. The bees are smart enough to forage for and store what they need.

  • Successful colonies need to be able to manage themselves.

  • Commercial beekeepers use pollen substitute in the fall to stimulate brood production prior to moving bees to a new pollination site.



  • Best time is swarm season.

  • Get queens from as close to home as possible, or let the colony raise its own queen.



  • Honey is the best bee food – imagine that! Be sure you’re leaving plenty of honey (100+ pounds) for the bees to eat over the winter.

  • Syrup made from regular table sugar (not corn syrup, etc.) is the best supplemental feed.



  • Inspect every two weeks. Wait until bees are flying vigorously before opening the hive.

  • Open the lid and look in the top box. If this is a honey storage box, there’s no need to remove each frame. Just take a peek, make sure everything looks okay and put the lid back on. Move the top box and lid to the side (place it on an inverted lid nearby in such a way that bees can fly in and out).

  • Look down into the next box. Count how many frames are covered with bees and make note. Remove one of the outside frames and set it aside. Slide the next frame over without pulling it out of the hive and continue until you get to a frame with lots of brood. Carefully remove one brood frame and inspect it for:

    • Brood, all stages (remember, presence of eggs means the queen has been there within the last three days)

    • Brood pattern

    • Signs of diseases

  • Return the brood frame and examine a second brood frame in the same way.

  • Return all frames to the hive body in their original orientation, place a cover on the box and move it aside with the box you already removed.

  • Repeat the brood chamber inspection steps for the next brood box.

  • Reassemble the hive.

  • Record your total frame count, approximate number of honey frames and any other pertinent notes.


Equipment from diseased colonies

  • Foulbrood - Frames from colonies infected with foulbrood should be burned. The inside of infected hive bodies can be flamed with a torch until they are blackened.

  • Nosema - is killed by freezing.

  • Chalkbrood – All colonies have it, but it is only expressed in weak colonies. If you see chalky mummies, be sure to check the colony for other problems.

  • Viruses live in the bees, not in the equipment.


Laying workers

  • Queen pheromones prevent ovary development in workers. If the queen dies, the pheromones go away and workers may begin to lay eggs. Workers will only ever be able to lay drone eggs.

  • Laying workers have never been outside of the hive. Other worker bees become very protective of them.

  • To get laying workers out of a colony, take the hive bodies 30+ yards away from the apiary and shake all the bees out of them. Return the hive bodies to the apiary. The laying workers will not be able to find their way back to the hive, but the other bees will. Introduce a new queen after the bees return.