November 2015 Beeline

At PUB’s  October 7th, we ate cake to thank Dewey Caron for all of his contributions this year, he will be overwintering in Bolivia. Glen Andresen gave his monthly pollen & nectar report, which he had to adjust this year to accommodate the long bloom season. Dewey warns that with a long bloom season comes late brood rearing, leading to an increase in varroa mites.

We had the return of the PUB Spotlight, where we invite members to share their beekeeping experience. We heard from Carolyn, a first year beekeeper who’s learning quickly and now spends her free time watching the bees come and go. Additionally, Luca, a fifteen year old beekeeper, joined us along with his family. At age nine, Luca was living in France and followed a curiosity in beekeeping to a town in southern France, Cevennes. There, he was introduced to traditional beekeeping, using hollowed-out chestnut trees. Luca developed a passion for beekeeping and now has four thriving hives, one which he’s given to his younger brother.

As our duties in the hive wind down for the year, we’re getting excited for some events coming up this winter:

Our November 4th meeting will come with a location change to Tabor Space where we’ll be hosting a Show & Tell. Members and guests are encouraged to show off their products and share recipes. We will invite local companies to share what they are doing, and people can bring items to sell.

In December, we will change both location and meeting date. We will be meeting on Tuesday, December 1st at Tabor Space for PUB’s Photo and Art contest. We’ll be having a potluck and honey tasting to compliment the art. There will be prizes, so get your art ready!

October 2015 Beeline

PUB’s September 2nd meeting was focused on practical advice from Dewey Caron on how to use this fall season to prepare our hives to overwinter. Additionally, Bill Catherall showed off the delightful video he composed for the OSBA State Fair booth, which put a spotlight on various beekeepers in the area.

Glen Andresen, who Bill Catherall refers to as our “Beekeeper extraordinaire and master gardener” was back this month showing off his new inventive way to clean old diseased frames. He places his frames on his compost pile, where soldier fly larvae who rapidly eat through the wax. Soldier flies are attracted to anything high in organic matter. Glen exclaimed, “bring me your feces, your tired frames!”

PUB would like to thank our friends at Bee Allies. Bee Allies provided us with a swarm hotline. The hotline was a success, with about 100 PUB members responding to over 300 calls.

We’re getting excited for some events coming up this fall and winter:

At our November meeting, we’ll be hosting a Show & Tell where members and guests are encouraged to show off their products and share recipes. We will invite local companies to share what they are doing, and people can bring items to sell.

Get your bee-related art projects ready to show at PUB’s December Photo and Art contest, complete with prizes. We’ll be having a potluck and honey tasting to compliment the art.

September 2015 Beeline

While Glen Andresen was busy flipping pancakes at the family booth of Junction City’s Scandavian Festival, Dr. Dewey Caron took over our August 5th meeting with practical advice for how to start the beekeepers new year off and transition into fall. His presentation was full of a vibrant Q&A from our members, mostly around feeding and requeening practices. As we help our bees prepare to overwinter, Dewey reminded us of last year’s Pacific Northwest honey bee loss survey results (, debunking some practices as statistically insignificant, and some as trends. Very few practices showed significant success in preventing overwinter losses, such as chemically treating for varroa mites. Dewey, as always, encourages us all to try new overwintering techniques and share our results in the 2016 survey!

PUB’s apiary at Zenger Farm has seen some exciting growth this year! We started the year with two hives, and to that have added eight nucleus hives, resulting in twelve hives going into fall. The property has been cleaned up, with fresh woodchips and improved shelters and equipment. Zenger Farm is dedicated to education and experimentation. See our calendar to find out when the next volunteer work party is, they are an amazing way to get beekeeping experience!

We’re getting excited for some events coming up this fall and winter:

At our November 4th meeting we’ll be hosting a Show & Tell where members and guests are encouraged to show off their products and share recipes. We will invite local companies to share what they are doing, and people can bring items to sell.

Get your bee-related art projects ready to show at PUB’s December 1st Photo and Art contest, complete with prizes. We’ll be having a potluck and honey tasting to compliment the art.

August 2015 Beeline

Our July 1st meeting came chalk-full of practical beekeeping advice from our local experts, as well as some thought-provoking conversations about hive treatment methods and philosophies.

Tour De Hives, PUB’s biggest annual event, was a huge success this year! Thanks to all of the volunteers and hosts who helped make it possible. With this year’s success, we hope to expand next year to be even bigger and better! As such, we are currently looking for volunteers for next year’s planning committee.

Our website has a new Classifieds section. Become a PUB member to take advantage of our local trading post for beekeeping equipment, goods, and services.

Following Glen Andresen’s always popular “What’s In Bloom This Month” Dewey Caron gave his monthly “Do You Have A Plan” presentation. While we were challenging the bees by oversupering last month, this month he encourages us to undersuper with the goal of getting the bees to finish up partially filled honey frames. Dewey also encourages us to continue tracking our mite counts to give context as we move into fall.

PUB supports beekeepers of all methodologies, and this month Bill Catherall gave a presentation on Treatment-Free Beekeeping. He outlined the spectrum of methods, ranging from natural to industrial. He then talked through a number of hive management techniques through the eyes of a treatment-free beekeeper, whose goal is to work with natural selection with the goal of allowing genetically strong bees to prosper while genetically weaker hives die out. Ultimately, he opened up the floor for discussion around a hybrid varroa mite treatment approach proposed by Dr. Dennis vanEngelsdorp, with the Bee Informed Partnership. To read more, check out Bill’s blog post on our website.

Oregon State Fair Booth 2015

On August 29, 2015, Portland Urban Beekeepers hosted the OSBA bee booth at the Oregon State Fair in Salem.20150829_120114

The booth was really nice, with a “Brood Zone” for children to keep busy, an observation hive, a display case with all the honey, wax, and photo entries, and many large photo and informational posters.20150829_115638



Front and center in the booth this year was a new addition: “HIVIDEO” – A display case built to look like a large hive with a video featuring “The Faces of Oregon Beekeepers” running in a loop.



Treatment-free & The Beekeeping Spectrum

When new backyard hobby beekeepers are seeking out advice and learning how to keep bees, they are often confronted with various models of beekeeping. The 2 main schools of thought are either “natural” or “conventional.” Due to the usual practice of dosing chemicals into a hive, many hobbyists are turned off to the conventional method and instead seek to do things the “natural” way. Unfortunately, the “natural” way also has many sub-partitions. In fact, there’s a huge spectrum of methods and names outside the “conventional” way. Each having a subtle distinction that sets it apart from the others.


“Natural” – Since beekeeping involves putting bees in a man-made box, on the ground, with removable combs, there’s not much that’s really natural about it. But some people practice a mode of beekeeping where they just let the bees move into a hollow log. They basically provide habitat for the bees and don’t do any manipulations to the hive. This is as close to natural as you’re going to get, but it occupies a very narrow band of the spectrum.

“Organic” – This label is often used by many who intend for it to mean, “As nature made it.” It used to mean, “No pesticides.” But the name has lost meaning as “organic” pesticides have come to market and can be used in place of synthetic compounds. In other words, you can keep bees in a log, never touching them, or use naturally occurring, lab-purified chemicals in concentrations far higher than can actually be found in nature, and both can be called “organic.”

“IPM” – Integrated Pest Management. This covers a very wide range of practices, including pest control methods “to manage pest damage by the most economical means, and with the least possible hazard to people, property, and the environment.” (1)

“Treatment-free” – This is the principle in which no treatments are used. That is to say, nothing is introduced to the hive by the beekeeper with the intent to kill a pest or treat disease. Let the bees deal with it on their own. However, this doesn’t mean a treatment-free beekeeper does nothing. And this is different from “natural” for reasons I’ll get into in this article.

In order to fully understand what treatment-free beekeeping is all about, it’s important to understand the pros & cons of treating and not treating. There are benefits and risks to each.

Treatment: Pros –

Varroa Distructor
  1. Minimize losses
  2. Stop the spread of disease & pests

All beekeepers actually want to do this, but conventional beekeepers feel the best way to do this is with chemical intervention.

Treatment: Cons –

  1. Propping up weak genetics
  2. Treatment-resistant pests/disease
  3. Chemical contamination & synergistic affects with other chemicals (2)

Michael Bush goes into great detail about all the problems with medically treating bees and the reasons why this is a bad idea. But to sum up, it’s an unsustainable model. It supports weak bees and promotes stronger disease and pests. Also, many of the chemicals used in the hive can build up in the wax combs and/or magnify the toxicity of pesticides or fungicides used in agriculture that the bees are exposed to. (3)

Slightly off-topic sideline

Let’s take a quick diversion and cover the more popular treatment options and explore their problems from the perspective of a treatment-free beekeeper. Of course, they all promote bad genetics that rely on beekeeper intervention to survive, so we’ll just get that one out of the way.

Mechanical treatments:

  • Powder sugar dusting – Impractical with a large operation or for a beekeeper with a busy schedule.
  • Drone “trapping” or removal – Will this breed mites that seek out worker larvae?
  • Brood breaks – No major objection. It would be preferred that the bees do this themselves without assistance.
  • Screened bottom boards – Many don’t consider this a treatment, but some do. This has questionable effectiveness.

Chemical treatments:

  • Apiguard (25% thymol) – Lipophilic, meaning it builds up in the wax
  • ApiLife Var (74% thymol) – Lipophilic
  • ApiVar (amitraz) – Synthetic; strong synergistic effect with fungicides (3)
  • Apistan (fluvalinate) – Synthetic; mites are resistant to it now
  • Checkmite (coumaphos) – Synthetic; mites are resistant to it now
  • MiteAway Quick strips (MAQS) (formic acid) – no major objection aside from promoting bad genetics
  • HopGuard (hop beta acids) – shown to not be effective
  • Oxalic Acid – fumigation is hazardous; drip method is done in the winter and could freeze the bees in some regions
  • Mineral Oil fogging – causes fires
  • Essential Oils – inconsistent concentrations & formulations make kitchen chemistry difficult and hazardous to the bees

Back on topic

Treatment-free: Pros –

Making nucs
  1. Breed stronger bees

That’s really the ultimate goal. Instead of trying to help weak bees, the idea is to use natural selection to decrease losses over time with less beekeeper input. The key to treatment-free beekeeping is to artificially increase the natural reproductive process of the hives. This is what sets it apart from “natural” beekeeping. Instead of letting the survivors swarm and reproduce on their own, they are split or queens produced to make more offspring than they otherwise would have.

Treatment-free: Cons –

  1. High losses
  2. Spreading disease & pests

These are the criticisms often lobbed over at the treatment-free beekeepers. They are often told, “Your bees are just going to die,” or “You’re infecting our hives with your diseases.” Of course, treatment-free beekeepers fire back with something like, “Your inferior drones are mating with my queens,” and thus the battle rages on. But what can be done to deal with these arguably accurate claims?

Winter deadout

Dealing with loss

You’re going to lose hives. It’s inevitable. Of course, treating hives isn’t a guarantee of survival either, but at least doing something about it can make you feel like you tried. So if you aren’t going to apply treatments, then instead plan for the loss. Make more hives than you really want. Plan for about 50% loss, so double the number of hives you want before winter. If you want to have 2 hives in the spring then go into autumn with 4 or 5. Having more small hives is easier to manage than having a couple really big ones. If you luck out and more survived than you planned, then sell the extras. People in your area would love to have a strong hive that survived the winter.

Also, keep perspective on the whole thing. Losses can be hard if you are attached to them. But this is just nature’s way of removing the bad genetics from the area.

Dealing with disease & pests

So your hive gets over taken with Varroa mites, what do you do about it? Well, you can do nothing and just let them deal with it on their own. But there’s a great concern about pest transmission to other hives in the area. This is the main point of criticism with treatment-free beekeeping. It’s not so bad if your hive dies if the disease and pests are contained. But if you live in a densely populated area of beekeepers, the mites that got out of control in your hive might be spreading to the neighbors’ hives.

Can you isolate your apiary? If no other hives are within a 3-4 mile flight radius, you’re probably fine. In an urban area, this may not be possible.

So what can a treatment-free beekeeper do about this?

Treating the hives has a similar negative affect to the neighborhood by “infecting” it with bad genetics. Drones from the treated hives will spread their inferior genes. Is there a middle-ground that will satisfy both groups?

Mites on a sticky board

At the OSBA conference in Seaside, Oregon last November, Dr. Dennis vanEngelsdorp, with the Bee Informed Partnership, gave a talk on “Management Practices that Work and Those that Don’t.” Unfortunately the content of his presentation doesn’t seem to be online, but in it he presented a plan that might be a good compromise that would settle the battle between those who treat and those who don’t.

  1. Take mite counts
  2. Treat the hives that have high mite loads
  3. Kill the queens in the treated hives and use the bees for something else

Wait a minute! But this requires treating, which goes against the treatment-free philosophy!

Right. But, the objections to treating are:

  1. It promotes bad genetics
  2. It contaminates the hive
  3. It breeds treatment-resistant mites

1) The queen is getting removed. Her genetic line ends. 2) If a suitable treatment is used that knocks the mites out without contaminating the hive, then no harm done. MiteAway Quick strips (MAQS), for example, may be a good option. It’s formic acid that evaporates away with no permanent residue and has shown to be quite effective at reducing mite loads. 3) If done infrequently or alternating with another type of treatment, there’s little risk to creating super mites.

Once the bees are relatively mite-free and the queen removed, these bees are available to be put to use in other ways, such as queen rearing or combining with a weak hive. Instead of just letting the colony slowly dwindle away and potentially infect your other colonies, the problem can be dealt with swiftly and the work force isn’t wasted.

If beekeepers that practice treatments can also follow the same practice of killing the queens with the high mite loads, then they too will be doing the neighborhood a favor of ridding the area of the weak genetics.

As a treatment-free beekeeper myself, I’m giving some considerable thought to this idea and keeping an open mind. I resisted it at first, but the more I think about it, the fewer objections I have. What do you think? If you are a treatment-free beekeeper, do you have any objections to this idea? Please leave a comment below and let me know what you think.

1. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Principles
2. Drug Interactions Between In-hive Miticides and Fungicides in Honey Bees
3. Acaricide, Fungicide and Drug Interactions in Honey Bees

Other resources:
Michael Bush – The Practical Beekeeper
Kirk Webster – New/Old Beekeeping Discoveries
Dee LusbyOrganic Beekeepers
Les Crowder – For the Love of Bees
Laurie Herboldsheimer & Dean Stiglitz – Golden Rule Honey

July 2015 Beeline

Our June 3rd meeting was filled with practical information from local beekeepers.

Bill Catherall gave a great presentation on beekeeping record keeping. He’s a big advocate for record keeping so you can do “bee math” in order to plan well by anticipating when brood will emerge. Additionally, record keeping is a great tool to track your hive’s health. Bill showed us all sorts of innovative tracking tools, including using bricks, paper templates, and duct tape. He reminds us that whatever works for us is the right way to do it!

Dewey Caron was back this month with advice on what to do in the hive this month. He reminds us to challenge the bees by giving plenty of super space. He warns that this year might not be a great year to harvest all of the supers. This is an early year, and the bees might need that extra honey to overwinter. Dewey recommends starting to test for mites. Testing early gives us a baseline so that when we take fall mite numbers there’s some context.

Dewey also presented some early results from the Pacific Northwest Honey Bee Survey. Good news shows less loss than last year! To check out the survey, visit Dewey and his team are still crunching numbers, so stay tuned for more exciting results. If you find this information helpful, please participate in next year’s survey!

Our main event was a Q&A panel, moderated by Dewey Caron. The panel consisted of three beekeepers with varying backgrounds. Mike card is a fourth year beekeeper with seven colonies. Kerry Jahanne, a beekeeper and orchardist and recent transplant from New York has 14 years of beekeeping experience. While she managed 40 colonies in New York, she’s still looking forward to starting her first in Portland. Our final panelist was a Portland beekeeping fixture and PUB veteran, Glen Andresen, who has 25 years of beekeeping experience and currently manages 80 hives. The questions revolved mostly around the pros and cons of foundation vs. foundationless, and the ways to track and manage mites.

PUB is excited to be sponsoring the bee booth at the Oregon State Fair on Saturday, August 29th. Come say hi!