Mid-summer nectar flows

The beekeeping season in Kentucky is changing, our spring/early summer nectar flow is ending, and hive checks are highly suggested. For non-Kentucky beekeepers, your nectar flow may still be on, if you are not sure about your local conditions, I suggest that you talk to other beekeepers, your bee inspector, or university beekeeping extension specialist. (Note: I also live in central Kentucky.)

I recently received the following question from a Central Kentucky beekeeper.

A Kentucky beekeeper asks:

Checked several of my hives for honey today. What do you think we found? Girls are all bottoms up and eating their honey? Need your expertise regarding current honey production in central KY. Rain, what’s it doing? What’s out there to eat right now? Would appreciate your observations.

Phil’s reply:
I think the nectar flow in Central Kentucky is now greatly reduced, compared to what we have been seeing earlier in the summer. I had suspected this, and last Monday (July 13th) at the Blue Grass Beekeeper’s Assoc. a number of other beekeepers told me that they had similar observations.

There is some white clover still blooming, and possibly other flowers, not just much nectar coming in. What the bees are collecting is largely due to the recent rain, and the landscape is still very green. The recent rain has not appeared to be interfering with foraging, we have mostly seen thundershowers in Kentucky, not all day steady rain.

Your comment about bees eating what is in the supers is a good warning for beekeepers. If they have honey in the supers, my opinion is to harvest it, then feed if necessary. However, decisions on to feed, or not to feed, should be made on checking the hive, either by pulling dome frames, or ‘hefting’ the hive. Hives should have the equivalent of 3-4 deep frames of honey, or 3-4 deep frames.

Robbing – honey bees as thieves!


Yes, our honey bees can become little criminals and steal from their neighbors! The threat of larceny is usually not great in the spring and early summer when a good nectar flow is on, but as the flow slows or stops (as occurs from time to time, especially in periods of dry weather), bees are on the lookout for any food they can find. So watch out! It is that time of year. The closest source is often a neighboring hive. Colonies with strong populations can usually defend themselves. New nucs and divides, recently captured swarms, and any hives which have not built up well or which are dwindling due to disease, pests, or other causes, are all likely targets of robbing bees. The culprits may come from your own hives, from your neighbor’s, or from nearby bee trees. Continue reading

Burt Behind Natural Cosmetics Maker Burt’s Bees Dies At 80

When I give presentations on marketing honey and other products from the hive, I use the story of Burt’s Bees as an example of making money from bees, and the importance of marketing. While being as successful as Burt Shavitz and Roxanne Quimby does not happen every day. I have known a number of beekeepers who turned their hobby into a nice side income.

From The Associated Press, July 6, 2015
Burt Shavitz, the Burt behind Burt’s Bees who co-founded the natural cosmetics company, died Sunday. He was 80. A spokeswoman for Burt’s Bees said in an emailed statement Shavtiz died of respiratory complications in Bangor, Maine, surrounded by family and friends. Shavitz is known for being a character from the backwoods of Maine, but he grew up around New York, served in the Army in Germany and shot photos for Time-Life before leaving the city. He was a hippie making a living by selling honey when his life was altered by a chance encounter with a hitchhiking Roxanne Quimby. See below link for the rest of the AP article.


For some additional links about Burt’s Bees Continue reading

Some recent media reports involving honey bees

In the last ten years beekeepers in the U.S., and many other countries, have faced severe problems and challenges. The causes of these difficulties are complex, not easily explained, and still not totally understood. Mainstream media, with their need to attract an audience with short articles, and sound bites, often fail to get the story quite right. Below you will find links to several non-science media pieces that I think that will be informative for beekeepers, and those just interested in honey bees, and more accurate than many others that I have read. However, the writers still have a hard time getting the story completely right. For example, in one of these articles you will see a quote from a bee scientist that the symptoms of the recent unexplained colony loss that came to be called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), have not been observed for several years. I have also attached a link to a National Public Radio interview, in which interviewer, who presumably had read the before mentioned quote, speaks of CCD as an ongoing observation. Most popular media depict honey bees as being on the verge of extinction, while national surveys indicate that the total number of managed colonies in the U.S. have actually been increasing in recent years. Part of the problem that the writers face, as mentioned before, is that the facts are complex, and not easily explained in a few words. However, it seems that the ultimate goal of popular media is to offer a picture of coming disaster, which while making a good story, is not an accurate understanding of what is really going on. While getting all of the facts into the story may not be easy, it is necessary to give an accurate one. Continue reading

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 Amazon.com 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: http://www.beeculture.com/oxalic-acid-effective-easy-on-bees-but/.

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?