The Beekeeper Blog

It's Survey Season!

It is April 1st and that can only mean one thing at the Bee Informed Partnership – our National Loss and Management survey is LIVE!  Starting now and continuing until April 30th, your responses from this survey provide invaluable information that helps us obtain a clear picture of honey bee health throughout the country and helps guide best management practices.

Oregon Master Beekeeper is once again offering 1 service point for Journey Beekeeper students who complete the survey for 2016!

Without the aid of the many beekeepers who participate in this survey we would never be able to obtain the results that we have received in the past and hope to continue to receive in the future. Our monofactorial results are found at our website ( and through the years interesting trends are evident. Varroa clearly is a major issue and continues to be a major driver of colony loss – high losses correlated from untreated colonies is a result that has remained consistent from every management survey we have conducted to date. To help us continue this effort, click the link below to take the National Colony Loss and Management Survey for the 2015-2016 season:

Take the Survey Now!

If you would like to take a look at the 2015 – 2016 survey questions before beginning, or to download the survey so that you can take some notes before taking the survey online, click on the link below:

2015 – 2016 National Colony Loss and Management Survey Preview

Thank you all again and we invite you to take this survey. By doing so, you are helping forward the research started 10 years ago.

Journey News

New apiary registration fees through the Oregon Dept. Agriculture

Do you own 5 or more colonies? New apiary registration guidelines are now in place. Register now to avoid a late fee!

Division 55

Bees and Oregon Standards of Bee Colony Strength for Colonies used in Commercial Pollination of Crops


Apiary Registration Fees
The following annual apiary registration fees are established by authority provided
in ORS 602.090: Every person who owns or is in charge of five or more colonies of
bees located within this state must register the colonies with the Department of
Agriculture. Each registration shall be accompanied by a fee, which shall cover each
colony of bees owned by the registrant.

1. For registrations made before June 1 of each year, the annual registration fee
shall be $10 per registration and $0.50 per colony.
2. The number of colonies that must be registered shall be based on the high
number of full strength colonies managed within the state of Oregon at any time
during the previous year.
3. For registrations made after July 1 of each year, the annual registration fee shall
be $20 per registration and $0.50 per colony.
All moneys collected pursuant to ORS 602.090 shall be spent on pollinator research
that is predominately focused on honeybees.
Stat. Auth.: ORS 561.190 & ORS 602.090
Stats. Implemented: ORS 602.090
Hist.: AD 7-1992, f. & cert. ef 6-3-92: AD 2-1994, f. & cert. ef. 2-8-94

As used in this rule, unless the context or a specially applicable definition requires
(1) As defined in ORS 602.010, "Colony"
or "colonies of bees" refers to any hive occupied by bees and "hive" means
any receptacle or container made or prepared for use of bees, or box or
similar container taken possession of by bees, except for nucleus hives.

Please go to for registration information.

Apprentice News

Friday in the Apiary: April 15, 2016

Please join us on Friday April 15 at the Oak Creek Apiary from 3-5pm.

We will split up into groups based on experience level. Are you getting your first bees this month? Learn how to do a basic inspection. Did your bees overwinter and are growing strong? Now you need to consider swarming!

OMB colony maintenance: Our colonies were treated with Mite Away Quick Strips. We will do some sugar shakes to see if our treatment was effective.


Journeys: If you would like to lead a group through one of the hives, you can earn service points! Please contact me for details.

This event is weather dependent and space is limited due to parking! Please RSVP to for location, details, and for notification of possible changes.


"Friday in the Apiary" is an opportunity to gather, visit, and learn more about beekeeping at OSU's apiary at the Oak Creek Center for Urban Horticulture. Every third Friday of the month, you are invited to come and discuss hive management strategies for the month and get to know other beekeepers in the OMB program. This is a casual, loosely structured event intended to provide a learning experience in a relaxed setting.

Apprentice News

Why did my honey bees die?

Learning to identify a common cause of winter death in Northern Climates

By Meghan Milbrath, Michigan State University Extension, March 8, 2016

Guest Blog

Beekeepers in northern climates have already lost a lot of colonies this winter.  While official counts won’t be recorded for a few months, some trends are starting to emerge.  One of these trends is a specific type of colony death.  In Michigan, I’ve received so many calls describing the scenario below, that I can describe the deadout before opening the hive, or before the beekeeper describes it over the phone.  While I may impress some with these predictive powers, the frequency of these types of losses indicates a real epidemic that is affecting honey bee colonies in northern states.

Characteristics of the common early winter death in northern states:

  1. The colony was big and looked healthy in the fall
  2. A lot of honey is left in the top supers
  3. The cluster is now small, maybe the size of a softball
  4. There are hardly any bees on the bottom board
  5. Near or just below the cluster is a patch of spotty brood – some fully capped, and some with bees dying on emergence (heads facing out, tongues sticking out).
  6. If you look closely in the cells around the brood, you will see white crystals stuck to the cell walls, looking like someone sprinkled coarse salt in the brood nest.


  1. You don’t have records showing that varroa was under control.

Sound familiar?

We see this classic set of symptoms over and over in the states with a proper winter.   A big colony that seems to just shrink down and disappear.  Many people want to use the term colony collapse for this type of death, and while collapse is a good descriptor of what happens, this is not true colony collapse disorder.   This is death by varroa associated viruses.

How does it happen?

  1. The big colonies –While beekeepers are often surprised that their big colonies are the ones that are gone first, it makes perfect sense in terms of varroa growth.  Since varroa mites reproduce in capped brood, the colonies that made the most brood (i.e. got the biggest) are the ones most at risk of having a high population of varroa.  Colonies that swarmed, or didn’t take off, or even fought a disease like chalk brood are less at risk from high varroa populations, because they didn’t consistently have large amounts    You should have good notes indicating cluster size going into winter, but even if you don’t, you can see the large circle of food eaten by a large cluster.



This colony had a large brood nest (indicated by the dark comb in this frame from the top deep box), and a large cluster going into winter (indicated by the large amount of honey that is eaten away where the winter cluster started).  Varroa were never monitored or managed in this colony, and it was dead by February, if not sooner. (Photo by Meghan Milbrath)

  1. Lots of Honey – Lots of honey means that the colony died fairly early. Colonies with high levels of varroa, they tend to die fairly early in the season (before February), leaving lots of honey behind.  Once the bees are stressed and in cluster, the viruses take their toll very quickly.  In some cases the colony will even abscond in fall, or be dead before winter really hits.

The colony shown above had a third deep box that was filled with capped honey, indicating that the bees died early, and starvation was not the culprit.

  1. Small cluster – Varroa levels peak right when the winter bees are getting formed. The bees that emerge from varroa infested cells are weakened, and more importantly, are riddled with viruses.  Varroa mites are notorious for carrying deformed wing viruses (DWV), but are known to transmit many more.  When bees are close tight in a winter cluster, the viruses can spread very quickly.

In our colony, the cluster was only the size of our hand – some bees had their heads stuck in the cells, trying to stay warm, others had fallen between the frames.

  1. No bees on the bottom board – When a colony starves, the bees just drop to the bottom board, and you end up with a pile of dead bees in the hive. When bees get sick with viruses and other pathogens, however, they often will fly away.   Sick bees by nature leave the colony to die in the field, an act designed to prevent pathogen transmission in the colony.  When most bees are sick, they either fly away, or are too weak to return after cleansing flights.  An early fall illness means that a lot of the bodies probably got removed by workers too.

The colony we examined had only a few bees left on the bottom board (1-2 cups).   We didn’t see a lot of varroa, but there had been some robbing, so wax cappings covered a lot of the board.

  1. Patch of spotty brood/ Bees dying on emergence – When a colony succumbs to varroa associated viruses or parasitic mite syndrome (PMS), we see a lot of effects in the brood. Unlike American Foulbrood (AFB), which attacks the larvae at one particular stage, PMS will affect developing bees at many stages of development.  It is one of the only diseases where you see bees dying right as they emerge.

Photo 2Note the bee in the upper left is fully formed, and died on emergence.  You can often see frozen/melted larvae along with dead pupae.  Many beekeepers instantly suspect AFB, but AFB infected colonies usually will not be large and have produced a lot of honey going into the winter. (Photo by Meghan Milbrath)

  1. White crystals in the brood – Around the cells where the brood died (the last place of the brood nest), you will often see white crystals stuck to the walls of the cells. These are dry (not suspended in liquid like crystalized honey), and are the crystalized pee of varroa.   Varroa mites defecate in the cells, and the resulting guanine crystals are left behind, and visible to the naked eye.

Photo 3Cells on the left side of this photo contain small crystals of guanine acid, indicating varroa defecation.   Notice the dry, irregular shape, and that they appear stuck to the walls on the cells.  Some cells on the right side of this photo contain crystallized sugar.  Note the wet/liquid appearance, and that it is largely in the bottom of the cell. (Photo by Meghan Milbrath)

  1. No records that varroa was under control. Notice that this says ‘varroa was under control’, and not that ‘the colony was treated’.  You may have applied a treatment, but it may have been too little, or (more likely) too late.  This year was a particularly difficult year for this, because in Michigan we had a really late summer – it stayed warm enough for beekeepers to go into their hives well into October.   Many beekeepers took the extra time to put on a varroa treatment, thinking that they were lucky to get one in.  While that treatment could help the bees for next season, it was too late for this winter.  September and October treatments would have been applied after varroa had gotten to their winter bees.  Winter bees are born in the fall, and with their special fat deposits that allow them to live through the winter months, they are the one who carry the colony to the next season.  If the winter bees have already been infected with viruses, the damage is done.  No amount of treatment or varroa drop would bring the colony back.

The only way to know that you have varroa under control is to monitor using a sugar roll or an alcohol wash.  Just looking at the bees does not work; varroa mites are so sneaky, that you rarely ever see them, unless the infestation is out of control, and it is too late.   Many beekeepers say that they never see varroa in their hives, so they don’t think that they have a problem.   In fact, a varroa infested hive can actually look like it is thriving.   Underneath the lovely brood cappings, and away from our view, the mites are reproducing and biting the developing bees.  The colony can look fairly healthy until the mites reach a threshold, and the colony succumbs to disease.  By the time you see parasitic mite syndrome, or see varroa crawling on bees, it is often too late for that colony (especially if winter is just around the corner).   Getting on a schedule of monitoring and managing mites will give you peace of mind that your healthy looking colony is indeed healthy.

The silver lining

If the above scenario is familiar, don’t despair.   First, you are not alone.  Many beekeepers got caught off guard with varroa this year.  They didn’t realize how bad it was, or got thrown off by odd weather patterns.  Second, when the bees die, the varroa mites die too.   We don’t yet have evidence that the viruses would stay in the equipment, so you can reuse your old frames.  The honey that is left can be extracted to enjoy (if you didn’t feed or medicate), and frames of drawn comb can be given to new colonies.   Most importantly, if you recognize the above scenario in your colonies, you now have more knowledge as to what is harming your bees, and you can take positive action.   You have time for this season to develop a strategy. Monitor your varroa mite levels using a sugar roll kit (available at or at Mann Lake), read about integrated pest management for varroa, and make a commitment to prevent high mite levels this year before your winter bees are developing.   This is going to be the year!

Meghan Milbrath, Ph.D. /517-884-9518

Meghan Milbrath is a beekeeper and the coordinator of the Michigan Pollinator Initiative at Michigan State University.   She performs pollinator related research and extension work, and works with beekeepers and stakeholders around the country. She started keeping bees over 20 years ago, and currently owns and manages a The Sand Hill apiaries, where she manages 150-200 colonies for queen rearing and nuc production.

BioPhoto_AndrewPotter Photo 4

Apprentice News

Check out our new Facebook page!

The Oregon Master Beekeeper Program is now on Facebook! If you would like to check it out, here is the link:
Like the page to get updates and more bee related content!

Apprentice News

Becoming a Beekeeper by Bob Falconer

Check out this article published by the OSU Master Gardener (Washington County) newsletter on becoming a beekeeper, written by Journey beekeeper Bob Falconer from Hillsboro! Enjoy!

Becoming a Beekeeper: Reasonable expectations for the first year 

Bob Falconer, OSU Master Gardeners Washington County

2016 Oregon Master Beekeeper Program

Ok. You‘ve spent all winter reading about keeping bees, attended your local bee keeper meetings and beginning bee school, and you still have a lot of questions and maybe some nervousness. That’s normal.

Your club is doing a group buy of nucs or packaged bees and you have ordered (and paid for) your bees. The club says that they “should be in” mid-April. Why is this? Most commercial beekeepers send their bees down to California to work the almond pollination. The hives are usually trucked down sometime in January or February. When the almonds (and plums) start blooming, the bees are hauled to the various orchards that have contracted for their use. The bee populations start building up and, by the middle of March in a good year, the hives are overflowing with bees. Many hives are then brought back to Oregon where the commercial bee keeper will either:


Honey bee on Fuji apple. (Ron Spendal)


  1. Split the hive: This involves taking four to five frames of bee brood as well as some stored honey and put- ting them in their own box with enough workers to take care of the brood. A new queen is then introduced and within a week she is laying eggs of her own. The hive is allowed to be on its own although the bee keeper will usually provide feed in the form of 1:1 sugar and water, which closely resembles plant nectar.
  2. Make boxes of bees: This involves shaking about three to four pounds of workers from the frames into a funnel that empties into a specially constructed bee shipping box. A qeen is then added in her own little box and the bees are fed. This method produces a salable product faster.

Finally the call comes that the bees will be ready to pick up on a certain date. What should you do?

  1. All your woodenware (hives, bottom board, top covers) should be painted on the outside and in place.
  2. You should have on hand enough sugar (white, not brown or confectioners) to make at least a quart of 1:1 syrup for each hive. This should be checked and refilled as necessary.
  3. Your tools (particularly the J-hook) and protective gear should be ready to use. You probably won’t need your smoker, but, if you want to use it, you should have already practiced lighting it and keeping it lit. (Since you have taken the beginning bee keeping course your club provides, all this will be familiar.)
    1. Make sure you have a reliable source of water near the hive.


The big day arrives! Throw your protective gear into the vehicle. I strongly recommend a pick-up truck unless you want loose bees in the car. Don’t worry; you will not be the first bee keeper to drive in protective gear. At the pick-up point there are almost always many loose bees, so don your gear when you arrive and pick up the number of packages you ordered. It always better to go early in the day. If it is a warm day go directly back to your apiary.


Depending on the equipment you bought you will have eight to ten empty frames in a box. We will discuss only the nuc option here. Take out four to five frames from the center of the box and one by one slide the frames from the nuc box in the same order in the new box. Work as rapidly as you are comfortable. There will be a lot of bees in the air and they won’t know where they are yet, but they will sort it out by scent of their colony-mates. When you have the frames of bees moved:

  1. Put inner cover back on.
    1. Insert the bottle of syrup into your feeder per instructions.
    2. Put a honey super box on with no frames to provide the top cover clearance of the syrup bottle,
      1. Put top cover on.
      2. Place the nuc box near the entrance of the hive as there are probably still bees in it. Examine the bees left in the box to make sure the queen isn’t there.