Honey Culture Radio with Laura Bee

Honey Culture radio is a weekly community radio show from Ashland, Oregon. The radio broadcasts online, and each show is archived and can be streamed and downloaded from the web.

As the title suggests, her focus is the culture of bees and not much time is given to beekeeping techniques. Her focus tends to favour topics related to bee symbolism, human relationships with bees in different parts of the world and history, as well as reviews of news stories about bees and environmental issues.


Greg Hunt on breeding hygienic mite-biting honeybees

Video of Dr. Greg Hunt of Purdue University, Dept. of Entomology speaking to the Southeastern Indiana Beekeepers Association. He talks a little about pesticides, but what really caught my interest is that he's been selectively breeding for bees that will chew the ankles of varroa mites.

His experiences seem to suggest that finding mites with chewed off legs on the bottom board may correspond to hygienic behaviour in honeybees. After selecting for this behaviour, very few of his colonies require mite treatments.

They do like to feed on bees, larvae and honey

Yellow jackets can be very persistent in wanting to enter the hive, but the bees are usually a little ahead of them in building up their numbers and are able to defend the hive entrance.

If the hive is a little weaker or you find many wasps are easily gaining access to the hive (I wouldn't worry about the odd occasional wasp briefly sneaking in), you might consider reducing the entrance down to make it easier for the bees to defend.


In situations where it feels like a hive is really under attack, or it becomes impossible to perform inspections without large gangs of wasps appearing, wasp traps can gradually reduce the wasp numbers around your hive. I'm not proud of this, and dislike using them, so it's only something I've used reluctantly in situations where I felt it would prevent bees from suffering.

The trap in the video above is simply a water bottle top cut off and placed back into the bottle upside-down. This creates a funnel entrance into the center of the bottle. Any wasp that enters will have difficulty finding this entrance again. As the transparent bottle lets light in through the sides, this is where they search for an exit.

The bottle can be baited with a fermenting sugar or meat so wasps will be attracted but not bees.


The kiwimana Buzz Beekeeping Podcast

A Beekeeping Podcast from New Zealand. They've been rather prolific in putting out a large number of episodes on a wide variety of topics in a short time period.

Of their current episodes, the interview with Rany Oliver has caught my attention. It was interesting to hear him talk about how he is able to do so much research and make the information free for the public as well as his thoughts on varroa managment and treatment-free beekeeping:

They also reviewed my own top ten list of considerations for aspiring urban beekeepers in this episode starting at the 14:30 mark:



Thomas Seeley on honeybee communication - The Bee Hive as a Honey Factory

A presentation by Thomas Seeley where he outlines a few different communication signals used by the bees to effectively and efficiently distribute the number of bees taking on different tasks in honey making.

Here is a quick overview:

Shake signal - Tells bees in the hive that they need more foragers.

Waggle dance - Informs bee about where to find nectar

Tremble dance - Communicates a need for more bees in the hive to work at collecting and storing the nectar brought in by the foragers.

The beep signal - If bees that are Tremble dancing encounter waggle dancers they may give them the beep signal as a way of letting them know they should stop.

What a mouse in a hive looks like

Once a mouse enters a hive they typically chew out the bottom corner of a few frames to make space. They will then bring in nest material. This is a view from the bottom of the box:

Mouse nest viewed from bottom of hive box.

You will probably see evidence of the nest on the bottom board as well.

If you are using a screened bottom board, there is a good chance you can determine if you have a mouse just by looking at the tray under the screen for mouse droppings and fallen nest material.

Signs of the mouse nest under the screened bottom board

It's said that mice will often move out as it starts to warm up and the bees become more active. If not, the bees can attack the mouse and you may find the remains (possibly propolized) within the hive.

Aside from the damage to comb, mice are also problematic in the pungent stench of urine that they leave behind in the hive.

Evidence a shrew has been around the hive

Pygmy ShrewPhoto by: minipixel / CC: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License

Shrew's don't nest in the hive, but they do leave behind signs of their visit. You may find droppings that are slightly different than those of mice. There will also be bee carcasses. Shrews eat the bee innards and leave behind a hollow exoskeleton. Most often they get at the innards via removing the head of the bee.

Shrew eaten bee carcass

If you do successfully exclude shrews from your hive, you may still find these decapitated dead bees outside the hive. It seems like they will feed on either the dead bees taken out by the undertaker bees, or those bees that leave the hive to die. Shrews are small but they need to eat frequently, over the course of a winter they can take a significant toll on the bee population.

Shrew and Mouse excluders

Generally the standard wooden entrance reducer is not sufficient for excluding mice, there are many stories of the wood being chewed away to enlarge the opening.

For a few years I've seen good results from both simply adding nails to standard entrance reducers and cutting myself thicker wooden entrance reducers from 1.5" wide wood. Was I just lucky?

Entrance reducer made from a wide piece of wood.

It's very popular to make or purchase metal excluders with holes drilled into them.

Installing mouse exclosuresPhoto by: Tie Guy II / CC: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License

The use of hardware cloth as a mouse excluder is not uncommon either.

Hardware cloth to keep mice out of a beehive

Size of entrance required to exclude mice and shrews

The openings beekeepers use for a mouse excluder are sized between 1/4" (6.35mm) and 1/2" (12.7mm), with commercial products typically using a 3/8" (9.25mm) diameter circle. 

There's a fine line between leaving enough space for adequate ventillation, allowing bees to remove the dead, and to bring pollen in during the early spring, while still securely preventing mice from entering. There's lots of debate as to whether a 1/2" gap is sufficient to keep the mice out versus 1/4" making it too difficult for the bees to do everything they want to do.

As far as the 1/2" camp goes, there are some beekeepers who claim to have not had a problem in 40 years. There's also some references from mouse owners using 1/2" mesh cages for adults (but many in the mouse world do seem to cite needing 1/4"). Are their regional differences, like species of mice, as well as how likely it is to find smaller, younger mice at the time of winterizing, your hive?

I haven't found as much info out there about shrews. There is reference online to Fletcher Colpitts, Chief Apiary Inspector of New Brunswick citing the use of both 1/4 and 3/8" spacing for winter and then switching to 1/2" once there is spring pollen. Anecdotally, I can say I am finding beheaded hollowed out bees this year outside, but not inside of the hive in the photo above which is using 1/2" mesh with the vertical opening height made slightly smaller as it overlaps the wood of the hive. I take that to be a positive sign.


The truth about thousands of years old unspoiled ancient Egyptian honey

This is an oft repeated story printed by seemingly credible publications and told by innumerable beekeepers and honey lovers around the world. It's a shocking statement that lends honey an almost magical mystique, but is there any truth behind it? Well in her blog post K Cummings Pipes took about as thorough a look into the matter as can be found on the internet.

For the full story check out her blog. If you just want me to make a long story short and spoil all the fun then keep reading.

In 1923 National geographic published photos at the tomb of Tutankhamen. One of the photos was just a bunch of kids munching on sugar cane. The description of this photo referenced 3,300 year old honey found in the tomb of Yuaa and Thuaa. Pipes found two books that referenced the honey finding incident at Yuaa and Thuaa tomb. I'm sorry to say that though they did initially identify something thought to be honey, it turned out to be something called natron.

Is may not be true but does that make honey any less magical? I don't think so. A boquet of concentrated flower juice, that lasts, if not thousands of years, longer than most food products, is still pretty amazing all on its own as far as I'm concerned.

I did try searching a little more on my own. I found some mentions of a Georgian honey. Each report stated how it's older than the Egyptian honey. In one case there was claim about the specific types of honey found. Some mentioned multiple 'jars' being found, while others say 'traces' of honey were found. No mention of edibility anywhere. So maybe there is still hope of an ancient preserved honey?

To maintain the quality of your bees wax, here's a few things to be aware of when melting:


Heating the wax to tempratures above 85ºC (185ºf) may discolour it. The melting point of beeswax is 62-65ºC (143 - 149ºf). If melted in water at excessive tempratures, hot steam can cause partial saponification and ruin the wax

Water type

Melting in soft water (like rain water) if preferable. Acidifying the water with something like 0.1 % vinegar can protect the wax.

Container material

wax heated in a container made of iron, brass, zinc and copper in it may cause a reaction that will discolour the wax. Stainless steel, aluminum or enameled steel, tempered glass & ceramic pots should be okay.


The Monk and the Honeybee

A documentary on Brother Adam's the world famous breeder of the Buckfast bee. Filmed for the BBC in 1987 when Brother Adams was 89.

The film goes into some of the history of developing the buckfast strain of bee, gives a taste of life in their apiary, and documents the search for the Monticola in Africa which was to be added into the genetic mix of the buckfast.

American foul brood (AFB) is possibly the most devastating honey bee disease.

It kills the colony, and It's high virulence means it can easily spread through your full apiary and on to neighbouring apiaries. Not only do you loose your bees, the comb and frames usually need to be destroyed to prevent infecting future colonies. A serious outbreak of AFB can be both heart breaking and very expensive. As such, early detection of AFB is critical. Here is a quick 90 second overview on what to look for:

Some more information and good photos illustrating what to look for can be found on Ontario's Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs web site.

Protocols for dealing with AFB vary a little in some regions. Most commonly, one needs to report the disease and destroy contaminated frames and comb with fire. Some areas might allow you to keep boxes and inner cover if they are well scorched or sterilize contaminated combs by irradiation. There are a few jurisdictions that permit you to try and save your bees by the shake method. While people have reported success with this method, it's important to note that areas that allow for this almost always have a higher overall infection rate compared to other areas.

As a very basic precaution, it's useful to always scorch hive tools before opening different hives. This can be done either with a propane torch or by placing your tool in a smoker. A few other tips to help limit the spread of disease can be found here.