About Ben Sallmann

As part of the Northern California Tech Transfer Team, I work closely with beekeepers and breeders in the region and assist with inspection, sampling for Varroa and Nosema, and testing for hygienic behavior. My interest in bees began as a child working on our family’s apiary/organic vegetable farm in Wisconsin, and became further immersed while recently caretaking the farm for a couple years and managing the hives. I joined BIP in the summer of 2013 in order to be more involved with hands on research that benefits beekeepers in a tangible way, and am currently based out of the University of California Cooperative Extension office in Butte County, CA. I graduated from Ripon College in Ripon, WI in 2004 with a B.A. In Anthropology and Global Studies, and in previous lives worked as a musician, Logistics Manager for the Naval Underwater Construction Team, and taught English abroad.

Oxalic Acid Fogger Demostration

Snapshot 2 (2-3-2014 9-54 AM)

When it comes to Varroa control, beekeepers have always been concerned about mites’ resistance to commercial treatments available on the market. It seems the arms race never ends, but changing up treatments throughout the year can help ensure that resistant mites don’t get a foothold. There is a lot of interest in alternative mite control methods, and one that may be a useful addition to the beekeeper’s toolbox is oxalic acid.

Oxalic acid is an organic, naturally occurring compound which can be found in high concentrations in certain plants, notably spinach, rhubarb, and and the aptly named Oxalis. These plants use it as a deterrent against herbivores by making tissues sour and unpalatable (try munching on a raw rhubarb stalk for a demonstration). Oxalic acid is approved for use by beekeepers in Europe, but is still not approved in the U.S. The advantages of using oxalic acid for mite control are as follows: it’s naturally occurring and organic, relatively easy to apply, and is not fat-soluble and therefore does not build up in the wax. The most common method of applying oxalic acid is mixing it with syrup and using a “dribble” technique in the fall or early spring. Mites in sealed brood are not affected, therefore oxalic is not usually used in summer or when there is a significant amount of brood present.

Recently the NorCal Bee Team had the opportunity to assist with a trial of an experimental oxalic acid vaporizer here in NorCal. Oxalic acid clogs normal off-the-shelf foggers, but a local beekeeper/inventor designed a special vaporizer that supposedly does not clog and can save beekeepers time and money when treating for mites. We were called in to assist with the trial by looking at mite levels before and after the fogger was used. The supposed benefits of fogging over dribbling are less ingestion by bees, quicker time to treat (less than 1 minute per hive), and even distribution of acid crystals throughout interior surfaces of the hive. The video below gives an idea of how the fogger is used.

Unfortunately we cannot say if this vaporizer is effective or not because it turned out that there were very few mites to begin with. Another demonstration is being planned so stay tuned!



The Basics of Moving Hives

At some point every beekeeper will need to move hives, whether it’s a beginning hobbyist bringing home their first colony or a seasoned professional moving an entire operation across the country. Here at the NorCal Bee Informed Partnership “headquarters” in Oroville, we recently relocated 4 rooftop colonies about a half mile away because some of the maintenance staff felt did not feel comfortable working on the AC units near the bees, and we wanted to avoid any issues before they happened! In this blog I would like to go through the basics of moving colonies and some lessons learned from our recent experience.

Step 1: Preparing the hives.

The night before the big move is a good time to get the hives ready, but for morning people, before dawn on the day of the move also works. If the hive is closed up during the day, any foragers out in the field will be left behind. Close up the hive by stapling a piece of #8 hardware cloth over the main entrance. Make sure it is the correct length and bend it 90 degrees so that it fits snugly in the entrance. Smoke the bees as needed to keep them calm and in the hive. Inspect the hive for other entrances such as gaps between boxes and cover these with duct tape or screen. Good ventilation is crucial, especially in warmer weather. Entire truckloads of bees have been lost to overheating. For long trips in hot weather it would smart to leave the outer cover off and replace the regular inner cover with a screened cover.

Staple the screen securely so bees can't squeeze out.

Staple the screen securely so bees can’t squeeze out.

This would also be a good time to secure the hive to prevent it from shifting in transit. If the hive is well-propolized you may get away without securing it, but this can be risky, especially if the hives will be jostled at all during the move. The hive bodies, covers, and bottom boards may be fastened together with 2” staples, but many find it easier to use ratchet straps to keep the whole unit together.

Ratchet straps are convenient because they can be removed quickly and easily after the hives are in place.

Ratchet straps are convenient because they can be removed quickly and easily after the hives are in place.

Step 2: The move.

Moving hives is stressful for the bees (and beekeepers!) so it’s best to get on the road as soon as possible after the hives have been sealed and secured. Try to recruit a friend or two and use a dolly—you will be less likely to throw out your back or drop a hive. Every beekeeper seems to have a story of relocation gone wrong, mostly caused by dropping or tipping over hives. Bees are especially crawly and defensive at night, so suit up and take extra care when handling them. If possible, pack the hives in closely or wedge them in tight spaces in the truck or trailer to minimize shifting during transit.

Loaded up and ready to go!

Loaded up and ready to go!

Step 3: Reorientation

When bees are moved shorter distances (about 2 miles or less), foraging bees returning to their old location can be an issue. If the hive is only moved a few feet or over 2 miles, the bees will normally adjust with no problem. Otherwise, they may clump up on the ground where their hive was or fly around confused. You can help bees reorient to their new location by trying one or more of the following tricks.

–Sequestration. Leave the entrance screen in place for up to 72 hours after the move. This will cause some of the bees to reorient themselves next time they go out. This does stress the bees somewhat and is not recommended in hot weather.

–Move hives in rainy weather/winter. This works like sequestration because most bees will not be flying.

–Place an object in front of the entrance. This method seems to work fairly well as long as the bees have to crawl through an obstruction as they leave the hive. A leafy branch or similar object will cause the bees to reorient themselves because the view from the hive is unfamiliar.

To conclude, moving bees can be a daunting process, but with a little preparation and forethought you can definitely master this skill.

mission accomplished! Bees are settling in to their new location.

mission accomplished! Bees are settling in to their new location.

Greetings from NorCal!

Hi everyone!

I am the newest member of the Northern California Tech Transfer Team, and I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce myself and say I’m very excited to be part of the Bee Informed Partnership! I’ve only been here in the Chico/Oroville area for a couple weeks but have already learned a lot from being out in the field with some of the local beekeepers and fellow Bee Team member Rob Snyder. Being a native Midwesterner, it is fascinating to be in a completely different region of the country and seeing the bees (and beekeepers!) adapt to the environment here. Even though the grassy hillsides look somewhat dried out and barren this time of year, the bees seem to be holding their own, bringing in pollen from creekside flowers and collecting oak dew.

According to the homeowner, this colony moved in over 5 years ago and is still going strong!

According to the homeowner, this colony moved in over 5 years ago and is still going strong!

The other day I noticed a nice bee tree only a block from my house, and it’s been fascinating watching the activity every time I pass by. Chico strikes me as a great place for urban bees because of the abundance of flowers nearly year-round, availability of water from the creeks running through town, and large undeveloped areas within the city limits (Bidwell Park and a number of community gardens). I’ll have to see if I can talk my landlord into letting me set up my own hive in the backyard…

Besides learning the basics of sampling, meeting the beekeepers, and getting familiar with the BIP data collection/storage systems, I had an interesting opportunity recently to help give a little lesson in Varroa/Nosema analysis. Our Bee Team was brought in to demonstrate to three apiary workers how to process a sample of bees and come up with a mite count and Nosema levels. It was a great way for me to solidify what I’ve learned so far, as well as practice my rusty Spanish translation skills! When we left they had a much better understanding of how to use the microscope, scale and other equipment.

Getting a quick lesson on how to count Nosema spores.

Getting a quick lesson on how to count Nosema spores.

Well, thank you for taking the time to read my first blog! I look forward to sharing my observations and experiences with you all as I continue working on this project. Bee well!