Some Beeyard Thoughts

Is this the same disease? They do not look the same, but they sure do have an odor.

Observations and Updates


by James Tew


Setback beekeeping – dealing with discouragement.

Bee diarrhea may not always bee diarrhea – apparently.

Growing old with your extractor. 

Odds and Ends – Balancing an extractor with canoe footing.

A wheeled extractor base.

Setback Beekeeping

A robin taking it all in stride.

A robin taking it all in stride.

In much of the country, it was a trying Spring season. Things did not go perfectly for many colonies in the Midwest and Northeast parts of the United States. Most of my personal colonies came through a mild Winter, and bees began bringing in pollen and nectar, bluebirds began nest construction, and lawns started greening up – only to have Winter cold and snow return for two weeks. Can I just say, this was frustrating?

Inches of snow on several occasions, temperatures back to the low 20s, frequent cold rain, and heavy cloudy days resulted in soggy, soggy ground. Just try walking in that apiary without Muck Boots. I have named these periods “setback beekeeping.” You will not find that term anywhere but here. This is such a frustrating period that I needed to name it something besides the name I was calling it.

Cold Daffodils. Could it be that the blooms hand downward to restrict frost damage?

Cold Daffodils. Could it be that the blooms hand downward to restrict frost damage?

How many times have I told beekeepers or written articles and factsheets reporting that Winter is not over until it is truly over. Time and again, fruit tree blossoms will be at “tight pink” or even open, and a late season frost or cold snap will set things back – even far back.  Orchards are misted; and in some cases, heaters and large fans are used to keep the cold air moving within the orchard. It is during these times that I communicate with beekeepers telling them that bees are not completely out of cold weather’s grip until Winter is truly finished (based on historical Winter records).

Classic cold weather setback beekeeping does not often occur in warm climates, but sometimes during hot weather, colonies will have to shut down – especially if rainfall is scant. Even warm climates can experience something of a setback, just not in the springtime. But know this – no matter when or where the setback occurs, it is frustrating or even outright discouraging to live through these periods. I wonder if the bees are as worked up as their keeper during these annoying cold, wet periods.

In cold weather setbacks, there is little that can be done to help the colonies. Checking honey stores, offering pollen substitutes, or reversing deeps causes too much colony intrusion. Clusters are broken. Bees fly all about – most will never return. Brood may be chilled. All the antsy beekeeper can do is wait it out. During that waiting period, feeling of management guilt will probably arise. If I had not gone to that weekend Spring bee meeting, I could have used that warm weekend to work my colonies. Nope. For me, I was off giving talks telling others what they should be doing when my own bees were being ignored. Well, I have to work to earn enough money to buy replacement bees!” Tell that to my bees as they freeze and die during springtime.

I did get to use my stethoscope again and it worked – again. A couple of years ago, I included a goofy photo of me in a BC article with a stethoscope stuck to the side of a wintering colony. (I did this when the neighbors were not around.) In my hours of frustration this past Spring, I once again returned to my colonies with my scope. I could confirm that they were all roaring away within the hive. That provided a small glimmer of hope and enjoyment in a discouraging time.

This was the year that I have talked about so many times. In fact, it is not too late for yet another spate of Winter weather again this year. All of us in cold zones should remember that we need to prepare for this setback beekeeping experience in the Fall.  Once the cold is underway during late Winter and early Spring, other than worry, little can be done. I made a note to myself below. It may apply to others of you.

Note to Jim Tew for next Fall

Jim, you really should:


  1. Treat for mites all season long.
  2. Monitor the queen’s performance. Going into Winter, she should be at least an average queen.
  3. Leave plenty of honey in the correct position, and have the brood nest in the bottom deep.
  4. Use the pollen supplement that is taking space in the freezer, and put some on the colonies.  Remember to take any unused supplement off hives before Winter begins. Do this – even though it is better to add pollen supplement in the very early Spring. Do it in spring, too.
  5. Put the colonies on decent hive stands.
  6. Remove any un-needed equipment. Doing this task will keep the wintering colony compact and stable.
  7. Put the metal sheet in place on screen bottom boards. In solid bottom boards, reduce the bottom entrance to 3⁄8”, and flip the inner cover to the deep side allowing for upward ventilation so frost will not accumulate. (In warm climates, water will sometimes accumulate.)


Jim, you really need to do these minimal tasks and stop procrastinating. You really should have learned your lesson by now.

Are there different types of bee diarrhea?

Is this the same disease? They do not look the same, but they sure do have an odor.

Is this the same disease? They do not look the same, but they sure do have an odor.

One of my hives that survived this past season had spotted the front of the hive with diarrhea spots. Yet the colony in the hive is (presently) alive. I find it interesting that this same colony streaked the hive front last year – even streaked it more. Yet, it survived last Winter, too. So here it is – a streaked colony for two years and the colony still survives. (No, I did not replace the queen. That should happen later this season – if it ever warms up.)

Please note that I have not a single shred of scientific backing, but it would appear that diarrhea is not always the end of a colony’s world. At other times, this gastrointestinal disruption can cause a colony kill. (Again, I am making these comments on very limited observations.) Like so many other bee diseases, I guess that I am postulating that all diarrheas are not the same ailments.

The spotting on the hive front in the colony that has survived for the past two seasons, is much more solid and formed. In colonies that have died from the malady (to the right in the photo), there is a greater water content. (I have to say this again; this is only a small observation on a few examples. This is not science. My comments are guesswork and no, I have no plans for becoming an insect pathologist during this lifetime.) But I must admit that I will be more observant of the appearance of a case of bee-upset stomach. I will harbor some hope that some sick colonies will survive. Additionally, I will wonder if something is wrong with the remaining honey stores in the ailing colony. Finally, I will try to clean this mess up (again), disinfect as much as possible, and simply toss a lot of the dirty frames.

Growing old with your extractor

From the Standard Churn Company. I had one like this for my first extractor.

From the Standard Churn Company. I had one like this for my first extractor.

Your honey extractor has absolutely nothing to do with cold weather and sick bees that I have been discussing; but I stumbled into the realizations that I have not avidly kept up with honey extractor manufacturers and design advances as the years have passed.

I need to confess that the last new extractor that I purchased was for The Ohio State University probably 25 years ago.  It is still in the bee lab and is still remarkably current. For the most part, metal extractors have been bulletproof since the earliest days; ergo, they can last forever.

Last February, at the annual Alabama Cooperative Extension System Beekeeping Symposium, I boldly assigned myself the project of producing a short video on the evolution and design of the honey extractor. I initially planned to simply review the big bee equipment producers and highlight their extracting equipment. Man, was I wrong!

When I last purchased an extractor, there were probably about 20-25 different models and sizes. The only ones available to me all were USA made. As I keyed my search into the web (primarily looking for video footage of extractors for my movie), I was swamped with links to companies that built honey-extracting devices, and was surprised that they came from all over the world.

Here’s the rub – some of them looked as though they were insightful and well made. All of them did not appear to be lightweight or poorly constructed.  Even more un-nerving was that many of these unfamiliar bee supply companies did have video and still shots that were available for subsequent use. I don’t know why but U.S. manufacturers had posted very little video on their extracting equipment. I have posted the 36-minute video at the URL presented below1. The original URL is a secure link for those who prefer to use those.

Canoe pads being used to restrict extractor vibration.

Canoe pads being used to restrict extractor vibration.

Sturdy stainless steel, advanced welding methods, and variable speed DC motors are fairly standard on all metal extractors. Extractor sizes ranged from small to ridiculous. It is easy to marvel at these devices, but I had to realize that the international freight charges would be prohibitive. Then I noticed . . . (hmm) . . . that some of the units seemed to be available within our normal bee supply outlets. If not the same, it surely looks the same. This equipment may be much more available than I thought. With so many other international products sold here now, the availability of some international honey extractors should not be surprising. Extractors are still the same in fundamental design, but the suppliers and quirks of some models are interesting and new.  These units continue to be something with which you grow old and pass down to your future beekeepers.

Speaking of which…

If you inherited one of the old, incredibly heavy-duty units somewhere along the way – especially the smaller units – the galvanized tank and basket along with the solder-sealed joint should be coated with a clear epoxy finish. It has been postulated that all those years ago, solder containing lead could have been used. There is no easy way for you to tell. Epoxy-coat these vintage machines and keep them coated.

For the Beginner

If you do get a honey crop during your first or second year, and you do not yet own or have access to an extractor, you may be tempted to uncap the honeycombs and lay them across a shallow pan, and allow them “drain.” In theory, that would work, but in reality, it is a dismal process. It takes a long time – days or even weeks. Unless you cover the draining frame, bees and other insects will love the food resource. Stickiness and messiness will be common. No harm in trying, but “I told you so.”

I have not mentioned cheaper plastic extractors or devices like the Reel Easy Extractor2 ( There are cheaper ways to extract a few frames, but once your bees have produced several supers, you will grow to the next level of extractor needs.


Odds and Ends

A wheeled extractor platform. Much of the vibration is absorbed.

A wheeled extractor platform. Much of the vibration is absorbed.

Remember that in an article a few months ago, I asked if any of you had a good system for restraining a small to mid-sized extractor. Obviously, I can’t use everything that all of you send, but I did select a couple.

Dave P. uses foam canoe blocks (see: to restrict his wandering extractor.

Initially I thought the blocks would simply work well to prevent marring the kitchen floor. It was a surprise that the extractor stayed balanced even when an imbalanced load was put in the extractor and the speed turned up. The extractor resists walking pretty well – depending on the severity of imbalance, of course. The foam absorbs the wobble. It’s not perfect but it does work.”

In my youth, (yes, it was a long time ago), I worked in my Dad’s paint and wall covering supply business. Our old model Red Devil paint shakers, when in use, were notorious for walking all over the warehouse. We found that using four small pneumatic tires on a simple flat platform that held the shaker base essentially kept the racket and vibration in one place. I found it interesting that Beekeeper Patrick D. has been using a similar setup for his wandering extractor.

Patrick said, “We used to have one person cling to our motorized radial extractor for the first 10 minutes of extraction but now that we installed caster wheels on the legs, the extractor innocently wiggles around just a bit, and all of the energy seems to be absorbed by this movement. No bouncing, banging, or washing machine meltdowns. You might also notice the light placed beneath the extractor to let the honey run smoothly – this is the only form of “heat” we use in the processing of our honey.”

You might also notice that Mr. D. is using his kitchen as his extracting room. Additional photos and videos, either related or not related to this particular article are posted at:   

From you…

You have sent quite a few pictures of hive stands and a few novel extractor stands – plus most of you included a description. I am trying to post these at the URL above. As you think of it, keep sending them along. At some point, I will be requesting that those of you who have interesting honey extracting facilities – any size – to send photos along also. An occasional short video could be interesting, too.

Good-bye and good beekeeping.  We will talk again next month.

2This is not a personal endorsement. Apparently, others have had similar ideas. Explore the Internet and form your own opinion.

Dr. James E. Tew, State Specialist, Beekeeping, The Alabama Cooperative Extension System, Auburn University; Emeritus Faculty, The Ohio State University.;; One Tew Bee RSS Feed (;; @onetewbee Youtube: