Beekeeper Management Calendar: FEBRUARY

Recommendations for your apiary in February:

This calendar is meant to be a reference point for management and is not comprehensive.

The year-round Beekeeping Management Calendar can be found here: 

Additional resources:

The Benefits of Pollen to Honey Bees

How to Quantify Nosema Spores Infection Rate in a Honey Bee Colony

A look at the FDA ruling on prescriptions for honey bees

The Advantages of Using Nucs in Beekeeping Operations


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Honey bees are an insect with a complicated life history and social organization. The honey bee that we use in the United States, Apis mellifera, is a cavity dwelling insect that flies to flowers to collect nectar and pollen for its food. Honey bees secrete and then mold wax into comb with hexagonal cells. They use these cells to rear their young, to store their food, to physically support themselves in their hive and to communicate information about foraging sources to other bees. We humans have learned to manage these honey bees; however, they are still wild insects. They act on instincts that have been developed over millions of years and beekeepers work to exploit these natural behaviors. This article looks at some of the characteristics of the honey bee colony that allow us to manage these otherwise wild animals.


Living in a box: Why we can keep honey bees in a hive

Honey bees, as cavity-nesters, can be convinced to take up residence in our manageable boxes.

First, let’s distinguish between a hive and a colony. A bee hive is the box or nest where the bees live. The honey bee colony is the collection of all the honey bees inside the hive along with their brood and food stores.

Honey bees are a cavity nesting insect. Bees will find hollow trees, house attics, wall cavities, and a variety of other spaces to live in. Beekeepers take advantage of this characteristic by giving them a hollow box that is easy for us to manage. The hive, the box and frames, that we give the bees is designed to meet certain instinctual needs. Bees accept the size of the box, the space between frames, and the foundation that we provide because those features are similar to the hive construction that a honey bee would make or choose on her own.

As beekeepers we try to convince the honey bees to stay in our boxes, but we can’t make them stay. We have learned how to make our boxes more attractive and acceptable to the bees by studying honey bee behavior and biology. Through study we know some of the bees’ requirements and preferences for their home. We have recreated what the bees were already doing naturally in the two most common types of hives used in the United States: Langstroth type hives and Top Bar Hives.


Fruits of labor: Why we can harvest products from the hive

Honey, pollen, wax, and propolis are all valuable products that are collected and stored by bees and that we as humans collect from bee hives. Honey bees naturally collect nectar and pollen from flowers to meet their nutritional needs.  Nectar contains sugars and is their energy source. Pollen is their protein food. Bees turn nectar into honey to eat and the surplus is stored. Pollen is collected and stored in cells to ferment. After the pollen is mature it is fed to the larvae and young bees.

The ancestor of our honey bee evolved in a temperate climate where flowers were seasonal and winter was harsh. If a colony of bees did not store enough honey and pollen to last through the dearth of blooms and winter months, they would starve to death. They store honey and we steal –I mean, harvest it. Honey bees fly back from foraging with pollen in their pollen basket, the corbicula. We can collect it right off of their back legs. Bees pass through a trap at the hive entrance and the pollen is brushed off into a tray.

Honey bees store food (in the form of honey) so that the colony can survive winter.

Bees excrete sheets of wax from glands on the underside of their abdomen and form these wax scales into cells. These cells are used to store honey and pollen and to raise new bees. Empty wax comb can be collected from the hive or wax can be collect after honey is removed from the cells during the honey extraction process.

Honey bees collect plant or tree resins or sap and bring it into the hive to treat the inner surfaces of the hive cavity. This “glue”, called propolis, waterproofs interior surfaces and is used to seal cracks and close gaps between surfaces including our woodenware. It also is antimicrobial and actually helps keep a colony healthy. Propolis may be collected on a grid that is made for that purpose.

Honey bees naturally collect nectar, pollen, and propolis and produce wax for their own benefit. We humans have simply found uses for the products that our bees create.

Beekeepers and growers can increase crop pollination by placing honey bees on a field after the crops begin to bloom.

Pollination services: Why bees help feed the world

What about honey bees allows us to use them to pollinate crops? Three factors come into play: flight orientation, communication, and flower constancy. In the process of collecting pollen, honey bees inadvertently help pollinate plants. Beekeepers and farmers can place colonies of honey bees near plants and trees that need to be pollinated or near specific nectar sources for the bees to collect a specialty honey. The beekeeper literally points the bees in the right direction and the honey bees ‘do their thing’.

Part of the reason that beekeepers can move bees around to different areas is that honey bees can orientate themselves to their home location, even after being moved by the beekeeper. If a colony is relocated, the foragers adjust to this new location and will leave and return to the new site. When scout bees locate a floral source of pollen or nectar, she will return to her colony and advertise her find. She communicates the direction and distance of these flowers to forager bees using either the waggle dance or the round dance. The foragers will follow her memorized instructions to the flower patch and often continue to return to that flower type until blooming ceases. This is termed floral constancy. Beekeepers have found that they will have better pollination success if a colony is placed near the crop to be pollinated, just after the target bloom has started.


Beekeepers of course don’t train the bees to do these things. The honey bees are acting instinctively. Over time beekeepers have studied them and learned enough about them to use honey bees for our purposes. Still, there are many things to learn about these fascinating creatures. We can keep honey bees in a box. We can have them pollinate crops for us and make us honey but we are not their master.


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This article was written by Master Beekeeper, Susan Harris. 

Susan is a Florida Master Beekeeper and is working towards becoming a Master Craftsman Beekeeper. She is the treasurer for the Gainesville Area Bee Club and has been a member of the club for four years. Susan has devoted many hours volunteering on research projects at the University of Florida Honey Bee Research and Extension Laboratory.

Beekeeper Management Calendar: JANUARY

Recommendations for your apiary in January:

This calendar is meant to be a reference point for management, and is not comprehensive.

The year-round Beekeeping Management Calendar can be found here: 


For information on colony nutrition see “The Benefits of Pollen to Honey Bees“.

For information on monitoring nosema in colonies, see “How to Quantify Nosema Spores Infection Rate in a Honey Bee Colony“.



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Since December 2013 the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been phasing out the use of over-the-counter antibiotics used for food-producing animals. In an effort to reduce antibiotic resistance in harmful microbes, many livestock antibiotics now require a prescription from a licensed veterinarian. Honey bee colonies (considered a minor food-producing animal) are included in these changes.

Starting January 1st, 2017, if you choose to use antibiotics for the prevention or treatment of the bacterial diseases American foulbrood (AFB) and European foulbrood (EFB) in honey bee colonies, you will need a prescription or Veterinary Feed Directive* from a licensed veterinarian.

Per the new directive by the FDA, beekeepers choosing to use oxytetracycline (Terramycin), tylosin (Tylan), and/or lincomycin (Lincomix) must first follow these steps:

A honey bee colony is treated with antibiotics.

  1. Establish a Veterinary Client Patient Relationship (VCPR). A VCPR sounds a bit complicated, but really just means that a licensed veterinarian must know that you actually keep bees, that you are reasonably knowledgeable about the management of honey bees, and that you have a reason for requesting antibiotics. A veterinarian must physically visit your beekeeping operation to initially establish the VCPR. Follow-up antibiotic requests, however, may not require in person visits to your apiary. VCPRs also mean that your veterinarian can make clinical judgments about your hives and that he/she is able to provide follow-up evaluation or care.
  2. Request a prescription or a *Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) from your veterinarian. You do not need to know whether you need a prescription or a VFD for your bees. A veterinarian will know this based on the antibiotic you use/they recommend. In Florida, a veterinarian will most likely write a prescription for Tylan and Lincomix and a VFD for Terramycin. A VFD can be written for no more than 6 months, whereas a prescription may last a full year. Records of VFD orders/use must be kept by you and your veterinarian for at least two years.
  3. Purchase antibiotics. Terramycin should still be available for purchase at your current beekeeping supplier, if the supplier has notified the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine that they intend to sell VFD drugs (like oxytetracycline). Suppliers will only be allowed to sell you the amount of antibiotics that your VFD is written for. Tylan and Lincomix requiring a prescription will likely need to be purchased from a pharmacy or veterinary clinic.
  4. Apply antibiotics. Once you have purchased your approved antibiotics you can apply them to your colony(ies) per label and veterinarian instructions. You as a beekeeper can do this yourself; your veterinarian does not need to be the one who applies treatments.

Symptoms of American foulbrood in a honey bee colony, From top, left, moving clockwise: perforated brood cappings, ropy pupae, scales in cells, pupal tongue

Other Things to Note

  • A prescription/VFD written for Terramycin, Tylan, or Lincomix by a Florida veterinarian can ONLY be used in Florida (this is true of all states). Migrating operations will either need to apply these antibiotics while in Florida or establish a VCPR and get a prescription/VFD from an out-of-state veterinarian.
  • A beekeeper cannot simply purchase antibiotics now and use them next year on his/her bees. After January 1st, 2017, a prescription/VFD is required to not just purchase Terramycin, Tylan, and Lincomix, but also to use these products. Additionally, antibiotics degrade and become less effective over time. If you give you bees old antibiotics, you are likely giving them a lower-than-recommended dose. This can lead to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
  • Not all antibiotics are affected by this ruling. For example the use of fumagilin in bee colonies does not require a prescription or VFD. The new ruling only affects antibiotics that are used for both animals and humans (in this case oxytetracycline, tylosin, and lincomycin).

The number of colonies in a beekeeping operation fluctuate throughout the year.

Some Concerns

With any big changes to an industry there come concerns. This FDA ruling is no exception; a few of these concerns are noted below.

  • If suppliers are only allowed to sell you the amount of medication written on your VFD, we do not yet know what happens when you aren’t prescribed an “even” amount of medication. For example, your apiary is prescribed 1.5lb of Terramycin, but your supplier only sells 2lb bags. You cannot purchase 0.5lb extra and they likely cannot open and sell you a partial bag.
  • The number of hives that one needs to treat can vary widely throughout the year. A beekeeping operation may get a prescription for 100 colonies in January, but by May they have 150 colonies that they need to treat. They only can purchase enough antibiotics for two thirds of their hives. We suggest that when you are establishing your VCPR, talk to your veterinarian about how many hives you estimate to have at the time you plan to treat.
  • Prophylactic treatment (before there is a problem) of animals with antibiotics is not a common practice for veterinarians. Veterinarians may not be willing to write a prescription/VFD for this use. Prophylactic use of antibiotics is allowed under this new ruling, however, there likely needs to be a time limit for when the medication is no longer used in an apiary. It is unsure if continuous use of antibiotics will be allowed.
  • Most U.S. veterinarians do not have the training necessary to identify and treat honey bee diseases such as AFB. They may not know what to look for when you come to them to establish a VCPR or request a prescription/VFD.


Honey bee colonies burned after being found with American foulbrood.

Why Medicate Bees?

As beekeepers we are constantly bombarded with pests and diseases infiltrating our apiaries. The cycle of monitor-control-treat is continuous, year in, year out. We are constantly on the lookout for Varroa, small hive beetles, deformed wing virus, nosema, and the list goes on. AFB and EFB are no exception. AFB and EFB, spread by the bacteria Paenibacillus larvae and Melissococcus plutonius , respectively, can be devastating to colonies. In both cases, honey bee larvae become infected when they eat food containing the bacteria or bacterial spores (in the case of AFB). In Florida, the treatment for hives found containing American Foulbrood is to burn the whole colony. In part because the treatment of AFB is so severe, many beekeepers choose to prophylactically medicate their bees to prevent foulbrood in their apiary. AFB spores are highly resistant to being killed by antibiotics, so treating colonies before the bacteria begin to produce spores is possibly the only way to prevent/treat for AFB.


Why the Change?

The purpose of this new directive is to slow antimicrobial resistance in drugs that are both fed to animals and are important in human medicine. This may be accomplished by reducing the amount of antibiotics being used for non-disease-treating reasons. For example, some antibiotics are currently used to promote faster growth in certain livestock. The FDA ruling makes it so that, legally, antibiotics can only be used on food-producing animals for the prevention, control, and treatment of a disease. Since veterinarians are already trained in disease treatment for many animal species, and they are licensed by the state, they are the most obvious choice as new regulators of antibiotics for food-producing animals. Since honey bees produce honey (whether or not you harvest your bees’ honey), they too are considered food-producing animals and are thus included in this ruling.


Additional Resources

For beekeepers: The University of Florida Honey Bee Research and Extension Laboratory and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Apiary Inspection will be working on a factsheet for veterinarians who may be approached by beekeepers for a VFD/prescription. In the meantime, if you as a beekeeper could benefit from a letter to your veterinarian from the UF HBREL explaining the threats of AFB/EFB and the potential benefits or necessity of prophylactic treatment, please email For an informational video by the FDA overviewing this new ruling, visit


For veterinarians: If you are interested in receiving educational materials or in person training regarding beekeeping, honey bees, or their pests and diseases, please email For an informational video for veterinarians by the FDA on this new ruling, visit


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Beekeeper Management Calendar: DECEMBER

Recommendations for your apiary in December:


This calendar is meant to be a reference point for management, and is not comprehensive.

The year-round Beekeeping Management Calendar can be found here: 

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Beekeeper Management Calendar: NOVEMBER

Recommendations for your apiary in November.


This calendar is meant to be a reference point for management, and is not comprehensive.

The year-round Beekeeping Management Calendar can be found here: 

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Pollinator protection that starts in the lab

In vitro literally means “in glass” in Latin. More broadly in vitro describes a process occuring outside of its biologically normal setting, generally in a laboratory. The idea summons up images of scientists in white lab coats with bubbling beakers and Bunsen burners in the background. The reality is perhaps less fantastical than this, but in actuality is far more interesting. Since the 1980s scientists have been researching how to raise honey bees outside of a hive in a laboratory setting. If we can figure out the exact diet, temperature, and timing requirements of how honey bees workers care for their young sisters, we could ourselves raise bees in a lab, outside of the context of the hive.

But… why?


Figure 1: Honey bee larvae developing in a well plate.

Right. We get it. Honey bees have been “rearing” themselves for a long time and they seem to have perfected the process. Why mess with it? The answer can be summed up in one word: Research.

As honey bees fall prey to more and more stressors (poor nutrition, pesticides, parasites, etc.) the bee research community is stepping up to find solutions. The trouble is that testing the toxicity of a pesticide, for example, on a somewhat domesticated hive of 30,000 bees can be tricky. There are countless factors at play that could affect the outcome of an experiment –apiary conditions, pest levels between hives, queen health.

The goal of in vitro rearing honey bees is to eliminate as many of these uncontrollable factors as possible. By hand-raising bees from larvae to adult, we can regulate how much food they eat and their exact growing conditions, and ensure that their cells are pest free. In this way researchers are able to detect more accurately the subtle effects that stressors have on honey bee colonies.

The University of Florida Honey Bee Research and Extension Laboratory in collaboration with Universidade Federal de Vicosa in Brazil and Bayer Crop Science recently published research improving upon the in vitro honey bee rearing method. While many improvements to this method have been made over the past few decades, this latest research is the first to accomplish greater than 95% survival of bees from larvae to adult.

Follow along below to see the process in action.

Finding the queen

Figure 1: Finding the queen

First, find the queen.

The queen is “caged” on a frame of wax comb (Figure 2). The cage acts as a queen excluder, keeping the large queen bee inside while allowing the smaller worker bees to travel in and out, caring for the queen.

The frame with the caged queen is placed back into the colony for a full day. Hopefully in that time your queen has deposited one pearly white egg into the bottom of each cell. Since all the eggs under the cage were laid in the last 24 hours, we are able to begin the in vitro rearing process with brood of approximately the same age. After a few days the eggs will have hatched into larvae.


Figure 2: Caging the queen on a frame

Now we’re ready to head to the lab!

Next the small c-shaped larvae are moved from their home frame into the clean environment of a research laboratory. The remainder of their development will take place in the plastic cells of a well plate in a temperature and humidity controlled chamber. This moving of larvae from wax cells to plastic ones is called grafting (Figure 3). If you have ever dabbled in honey bee queen rearing, you are probably familiar with the term and the technique; the process of moving larvae into a queen cup is similar to moving them into a well plate.


Figure 3: Larvae are moved from a frame to a plate in a process call grafting.

Over the next six days, the larvae are fed varying diets made up of water, sugar, yeast, and royal jelly. When you are trying to rear a few hundred bees at a time, this can be a lengthy process (Figure 4)!


Figure 4: Feeding larvae a mixture of water, sugar, yeast, and royal jelly.

Once a developing larva has eaten all of its diet, it is moved to a new, clean cell and is given no more food. In a bee hive this would be the time that the brood cell is capped over. A few weeks later, with a little luck and a whole lot of skill, many of the bees will emerge out of their plastic cells as adults.

Keeping bees safe

Currently, regulatory agencies responsible for registering new agricultural chemicals, request that products be tested for the safety of honey bees. This includes not just adult honey bees, but also the effects of these pesticides on immature, developing bees. Prior methods of in vitro rearing honey bees for this purpose simply did not keep enough of the control (untreated) bees alive. The improved methods developed in this new research allow for more thorough testing of the effects of new crop protectants on honey bee brood.

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Figure 5: The complete in vitro bee development, from larvae to adult

Apiary hurricane preparedness

As you are preparing for the probable arrival of Hurricane Matthew to Florida, the safety of you, your family, and neighbors is the top priority. As long as you are otherwise safe, please take a few minutes to consider preparing your apiary as well. Below are some recommendations that may help your colonies weather the storm*.

1. Move hives from low-lying areas. Colonies in depressions (even those on pallets) may be flooded. Alternatively or in addition to relocation, colonies may be secured to hive stands.

2. Move hives away from trees. Falling tree limbs can be detrimental to your apiary in a storm.

3. Secure hives with ratchet straps. Positioning straps vertically around an entire hive may keep the hive bodies and lid secured to the bottom board (Figure 1). Stapling the lid to the boxes may also help.

4.  Fasten hives to a post.  Drive a t-post or piece of rebar into the ground near your hive(s) then secure the hive(s) to the bar with a horizontally placed ratchet strap (Figure 1). This may help keep your colonies upright in strong winds.


Figure 1: Secure hives. 1) Tighten a ratchet strap vertically around hives [shown in red] to keep the lids secure. 2) Drive a post into the ground and secure hives to it with a horizontally placed ratchet strap [shown in blue].

5. Tilt hives slightly forward to prevent water from accumulating in the bottom.

6. Remove any external hive feeders to prevent them from being blown off, possibly further exposing your colonies to wind and rain.


*Note, the stronger the storm is, the less effective the above precautions may be.


We hope that you, your  family, and your apiary stay safe during this storm!

Beekeeper Management Calendar: OCTOBER

Recommendations for your apiary in October.


Click image to enlarge

This calendar is meant to be a reference point for management, and is not comprehensive.

The year-round Beekeeping Management Calendar can be found here: 

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Field study of a new pesticide

Pesticides in Agriculture


A tractor spraying pesticides on rows of experimental tomatoes. UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones.

Pesticides are an important tool for farmers to control unwanted insect pests. In recent years many commonly used pesticides have been shown to be dangerous to bees that they come into contact with. Honey bees and other beneficial insects can unintentionally be affected by pesticides, particularly if they are used improperly. It is important for all pesticide users to follow label instructions –the label is the law. The most widely used pesticides are the neonicitioids and they usually have a pollinator protection label that gives specific instructions for their proper usage. If used properly, one can minimize pesticide exposure to bees.

A New Compound

Due to the toxicity of some common pesticides to bees, pesticide manufacturers are constantly trying to develop safer alternatives. At the University of Florida Honey Bee Research and Extension Laboratory, we recently tested a new pesticide produced by Bayer Crop Science called SivantoTM on honey bee colony health. SivantoTM (active ingredient is flupyradifurone) has been shown to be very effective against insects with piercing/sucking mouthparts. One such insect is the Asian psyllid bug which is destroying Florida citrus trees. In lab trials, this pesticide had been shown to be less toxic to honey bees compared to other commonly used pesticides.


Honey bee on buckwheat flowers.

What We Did

For our experiment, we planted eight large fields of buckwheat.  Buckwheat is a flowering crop that produces copious amounts of pollen and nectar that attract honey bees. Four fields were sprayed twice with SivantoTM at the highest label rate whereas the other four were left untreated. Three honey bee colonies were placed adjacent to each field and allowed to forage continuously during the flowering period. We measured honey bee colony strength parameters (e.g. # of adult bees, capped brood, uncapped brood, eggs, food stores) on all of the colonies during four time periods: prior to placement into the buckwheat fields, during the exposure period, 1 month after removal from the field, and 2 months after removal from the field. We also took pollen (bee bread) and nectar stores (unprocessed honey) from each hive to analyze for pesticide residue.


Technicians collect pollen from a pollen trap so that it can be tested for pesticide residues.


Photos of brood frames were taken so that individual brood cells could later be counted. This was part of the health assessment that each colony underwent.


Although we found higher pesticide residues within the pollen and nectar gathered from colonies placed adjacent to SivantoTM sprayed fields, we did not find any differences in any of the colony strength parameters between hives that foraged on buckwheat that had SivantoTM applied twice at the highest label rate and colonies placed near the untreated buckwheat fields. Our results indicated that SivantoTM is a promising systemic pesticide that has a favorable safety profile for honey bees and can be incorporated into integrated pest management programs for various crops in Florida.

This research was published in the Journal of Economic Entomology: