Follow-up question about oxalic acid post

This is a question, and my reply, that I received as a result of my June 20th post regarding the registration of oxalic acid as a varroa mite control product. I appreciate the question, as I have been hearing a great amount of discussion among beekeepers on how to avoid purchasing a labeled product by mixing up the chemical themselves.

A beekeeper in Kentucky writes,


Myself and others have been referred to to purchase oxalic acid, since the bee supply companies can’t sell it in most states yet. The problem is, CAS# 144-62-7, or Oxalic acid dihydrate (the crystalline form), not wood bleach, is marketed online as being 99% pure. So I was very surprised to read from you that the approved solution for bees is 3%. I don’t think very many people are aware of that. Any suggestions?


Phil’s reply

I am sure that a number of U.S. beekeepers have been using oxalic acid for years, just as many have been using (and I’m certain some still do) homemade formulations of formic acid. Though purchasing and using non-labeled forms of either chemical for varroa mite control is illegal, the employees of state pesticide departments are very busy monitoring the application of legal pesticides, and it is rare for a beekeeper, especially a small scale beekeeper, to be cited for what we call off-label pesticide use. However, the odds of getting caught are not the only consideration.

The issue you inquire about, of getting chemicals in a proper, safe, and effective concentration, is one of the major reasons for pesticide labeling regulation. Before a product can be registered, a great deal of research goes into determining the optimum concentration and method of application for both safety and effectiveness. I have heard horror stories of beekeepers burning off the tips of their fingers or damaging their lungs while handling full strength formic acid. Continue reading

Beekeepers aiding beekeepers!

I have a longtime former Kentucky beekeeping friend, Toni Downs, who is traveling to Uganda later this year to assist beekeepers there. Many of you may know Toni, perhaps through HAS, or EAS, she has been active with both for many years. I know the help that beekeepers can give to other beekeepers, and I applaud Toni in giving her time, resources, and effort to make this trip. As many of you may know, in 2012 I made a similar trip to Bangladesh. However, my trip was funded by the U.S. government, I was a U.S. Aid volunteer. Toni is making this trip without government aid, or help from a large foundation. Please take the time to read the below note about Toni’s upcoming trip, and if you can, give her some assistance. Donations can be made through gofundme, or by contacting Toni directly. As they always say, any donation helps. If you go to the gofundme website, you will see that I am supporting her beyond passing on this message to you.

TD trip June15

Toni Downs, a former Kentucky beekeeper living in the Virgin Islands, is planning a beekeeping trip to Uganda this year. She has been corresponding with a member of a group there and has planned to make a 5-week trip to visit them this August/September. This is a personally-funded trip and she has been fund raising for a few months, including co-hosting a Honey Tasting on April 30 in St. Croix. Funds raised are at 40% of goal, but there are only weeks left before the trip! Continue reading

Registration of Oxalic Acid for Varroa Control

As many of you have heard, oxalic acid has been approved by the EPA for varroa mite control on honey bees. In the June issue of Bee Culture magazine, Jennifer Berry wrote an excellent article on the subject, which I suggest you read. See:

Oxalic acid is an organic acid, a naturally occurring chemical found in plants and insects. It has been used for some time in both in Europe and in Canada as a varroa mite control. Since traces of oxalic acid are found naturally in honey, residues are not a concern. It is commonly sold for use as a bleach in woodworking, so is easily obtainable. The registration process for a pesticide, which is what oxalic acid is when used to control mites, is complicated. Continue reading

June 27 beekeeping class, instruction by Phil Craft

Due to the interest of the proposal of a third session of our Beyond Beginning Beekeeping course, we will hold this session on June 27th, at the University of Kentucky Ecological Research Center in Lexington.

Cick here to download information about the course, including location, start time, etc. You must pre-register, there will be no at the door registration, but there is still space available. to guarantee a spot in the class you need to email me, request a registration form, complete the form, and return it, along with payment.

This is an intermediate level beekeeping course, not a beginning course. Later in the fall, November or December, we will commence beginning beekeeping courses.

Beekeeping classes by the University of Kentucky’s Ecological Research and Education Center (EREC) and Phil Craft.

I’m working with the University of Kentucky’s Ecological Research and Education Center to conduct beekeeping courses this spring. Classes will be held in Lexington. I’ll be doing all of the instruction, and class sizes will be kept small (40 maximum).

On Saturday (February 24th), we’ll have an all-day beginners’ course, and in April an advanced course. There is still room in the beginner course for additional participants. See: Course information. All those attending the beginner class will receive a free copy of the beginner beekeeping primer First Lessons in Beekeeping, by Dr. Keith Delaplane, and will have an opportunity to purchase nucs or packages of bees at a discount.

Additional information regarding the advance class will be available soon. Let me know if you wish to receive more information on the advanced course as it becomes available.

12″ of snow on the ground today

Need I say more. Not spring yet, maybe in a couple of weeks?


Checked hives today – they are ALL alive!

It was warm enough today to take the covers, and inner covers, off my hives today, and to observe what it looks like inside my hives. I call this popping lids, the earliest spring beekeeping activity I do. Yeah, i know, it is not really spring, but it was about 50 ͦf, and bees were flying to my bee water supply. I DID NOt pull frames, this check is only to see what hives are alive, and to get an idea of colony strength. I do this by noting the size of the cluster, in the top box. Typically, this time of year, the bees have moved into the top box.

All colonies reported to be alive and well! No winter losses, so far, but they looked OK.

Sometimes we can be fooled as to whether a colony is alive or not by bees flying from the hive. I ask beekeepers: are they flying “in and out”, or “out and back  in”? There is a difference. By observing the cluster, I know my girls are all flying out and back in.

I also placed a winter patty, which I had purchased from the local Dadant branch, on the top bars of the op box. This is similar to bee candy, and will give them a boost, if food stores are low.

Finally, I warn new beekeepers about opening hives and pulling frames very early in the spring. There is the danger of disturbing the cluster, and little to learn. Hold off on pulling frames until we get extended periods of above 60 ͦ F weather. It will come, I hope soon.


Beekeeping class in Lexington, KY – Instruction by Phil Craft

In cooperation with the University of Kentucky’s Ecological Research and Education Center (EREC), a one day beginning beekeeping class will be held on February 28th (Saturday), in Lexington, Kentucky. All instruction will be provided by Phil Craft. Registration will be limited to 40 participants, and pre-registration is required. The class will cover:

A brief introduction to honey bee biology and behavior: Beekeepers manage their colonies through an understanding of basic honey biology. The course begins with these fundamentals.

How beekeepers keep bees: Beekeeping is much more than getting a hive and some bees and placing them in your backyard. Even though our grandfathers may have done it that way, modern beekeeping requires management – much like keeping other, larger livestock. Beekeepers must monitor, and sometimes intervene, to keep their bees healthy and productive. This phase of the course offers an overview of what this management involves.

An introduction to beekeeping equipment: The first step in owning your own hive is the purchase of the hive itself, along with protective clothing, and a few other pieces of essential equipment. This portion of the course will demonstrate the equipment and provide information on where it can be purchased, and estimated start-up costs.

Getting started as a beekeeper: Once you know the basics, you’ll need to know where to get bees, and how to go about setting up a hive. We’ll cover where to locate a hive, where to purchase bees, and how to install them.
• 1st year hive management: The final section of instruction will be an overview of management issues, including potential problems which may arise in the first year of beekeeping.

Question & answer session: Before we disperse for the day, you will have an opportunity to ask additional questions in an informal question/answer session.

The course will be held from 9:00 AM to 4:30 PM at the University of Kentucky’s Ecological Research and Education Center (EREC) at 1737 Russell Cave Road in Lexington. Find out more about EREC at

Course material provided will include handouts, the beginner beekeeping primer First Lessons in Beekeeping, by Dr. Keith Delaplane, and Phil’s contact information for follow-up questions and opportunities for future instruction.

The course fee is $40; pre-registration is required; class size will be limited to 40 participants. Contact Phil for at for a registration form, or for more information.

Beekeeping in Montana

MT_OCT14_92 Hives Last week found me in Lewistown, Montana, attending and speaking at the annual Montana State Beekeepers convention. Montana is one of the largest producers of honey in the United States. In 2013 almost 15 million pounds of honey was produced by beekeepers in Big Sky Country. One might think that this very northern state, Montana’s northern border is with Canada, would not be a great area for honey bees. While the winters are very cold in Montana, in summer the plains explode into color with blooming plants, including yellow sweet clover. Coupled with extremely long days, which give bees more time to haul in nectar, production of 200 pounds per hive is not unusual.

More interesting facts about Montana beekeeping:

• Montana has only about 200 (registered) beekeepers. Of this 200, 36 are commercial beekeepers, who are responsible for the vast majority of the 14 million pounds of honey production. This equals about 417,000 pounds (35,000 gallons) of honey per beekeeper.

• There are approximately 145,000 hives in Montana, again the vast majority – if not all (the small scale beekeepers may not be included in these hive count statistics) – are owned by these 36 commercial beekeepers. This equals about 4000 hives per beekeeper, which does not surprise me. Often when I am at meetings where there are large numbers of commercial beekeepers, I’ll hear I’m only a small beekeeper, I just have 1,500 hives!

• With production of 15 million pounds and 145,000 hives, we get an average yield of 100 pounds per hive, which many beekeepers would consider excellent. However, I had beekeepers at this year’s Montana state meeting tell me that this year (the statistics I have been quoting are for previous years – 2014 information is not yet available), many hives yielded 200 pounds this year. the best production was in Eastern Montana, due to better rainfall.


Nectar flow is on

We are having a good nectar flow in my area, south of Lexington, Kentucky. I started putting honey supers on a month ago, which was later than most years. As in much of the Eastern U.S., we had a hard winter and late spring, my hives were also behind in April, but have caught up now. I’ve had some swarming, but have at least 1-2 full supers on all of my stronger hives, including those that swarmed. Like a lot of beekeepers, I had a couple of what Randy Oliver calls “dinks”, hives that for some reason, are slow at building up, but even these seems to be putting some nectar into supers now.

We had a nice black locust bloom in my area, which started a couple of weeks ago, but storms last week knocked off most of the flowers. I am seeing a lot of white clover blooming now. We’ve had enough rain that blooming should continue. Drought can slow things down quickly. I was north of Lexington last Tuesday and saw a nice locust bloom there, the beekeepers told me it was just starting. This is a difference of about 50 miles, north – south.


Here is a photo of my son standing next to one of our hives, taken on May 23rd. Five of those honey supers were full on that day and we added two more. These supers are 10 frame supers, but only have eight frames in each super. All of them were placed onto the hive with drawn comb. I’ll also comment that I did not feed any syrup last fall or spring, I did no spring manipulations – no reversing hive bodies or moving comb around. I did do a thorough check of my hives, both early in the spring and last fall. The inspection last fall included varroa mite monitoring.

By far the most important management task that I undertook was treatment for varroa, this was done last fall, after monitoring.