Don’t lose your beehives to Nosema

I will never forget my very first beekeeping club meeting in January of 2017. I showed up a little late and the speaker for the evening was already in the middle of a discussion.

He was talking about his devastating winter losses and stated simply that he just could not understand why he lost so many beehives during the winter from year to year.

Well, forty-five minutes later, when the discussion had moved on, this guy said as a matter-of-fact that he has not seen the need to treat for Nosema in the last fifteen years. Bwhaa?!

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I could not believe my ears. It seemed that he had not put two and two together. My apprenticeship had hammered into me for years that I had to treat for Nosema if I wanted healthy honey bees going into winter and then coming into spring. Well, I’m sad to say that the speaker at the club that evening was one of the club officers and so he had a lot of wanna-bees looking up to him and soaking in every word. Today, I’m going to tell you HOW to treat and WHEN to treat in order to PREVENT your honey bees from getting Nosema.

~First, listen up because I’m going to give it to you straight- You must treat to PREVENT Nosema. Don’t wait until you see the symptoms.~

This quilting box has been modified as a top hive feeder.
This is one of my older style top hive feeders. It doubles as a quilting box. Here, I’m dosing my honey bees during fall with sugar syrup mixed with my homemade Honey-B-Healthy to prevent Nosema. Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

Well what is Nosema anyway? Here’s your Nerd-word for the day; Nosema is a microsporidian parasite. In essence, I call it a gut problem and when left untreated can lead to some pretty serious honey bee diarrhea and eventually death.

I alluded earlier that untreated beehives has a direct correlation to winter losses. Here’s why:

  1. When honey bees are ailing from Nosema, it can appear to the Keeper that their bees are working hard bringing in nectar, and they are. But when the beekeeper opens up the hive to see how their stores are coming along, to their surprise there’s hardly any honey!? This is because the gut issue causes the bees to consume their honey more readily, as they are starving for nutrients.
  2. When an untreated colony goes into winter, they hold their urges to go to the bathroom until a warm-ish day comes along to take a Cleansing Flight. But with Nosema they cannot hold it and either fly away anyways, dying in the cold or they crap all over the inside of the hive, thus spreading the problem further. Then in spring your healthy beehives rob out the one that died of Nosema and the death toll rises as the fungus spreads.
  3. IF a bee hive with Nosema happens to make it through the winter and into the first part of spring, they will most likely just starve to death, even if their Keeper gives them feed.

So what appears to simply be a ‘winter loss’ is actually just an opportunity to see Nosema at it’s worst. Traditionally, Nosema has been treated with something expensive called, Fumagillin B. However, rumor has it that it’s being taken off of the shelf BUT fear not! I’ve got a recipe for you that works great and it’s natural too.

Treating nucs for Nosema is just as important as full grown beehives.
If you’re wintering any nucs, they too should be treated in order to give them the best chance at a warm, healthy winter. Photo by Jonathan Hargus

How to treat (Prevent) Nosema Here’s some science that is easy to understand- Nosema is a spore and thus a fungus. So, we need an anti-fungus and preferably a natural one. In addition, it needs to be something that helps with gut health. Click here to read about the importance of honey bee gut health.

You have two options for treatment: You can buy pre-made, concentrated Honey-B-Healthy or you can make it yourself. I make it myself and will explain shortly how to do that. But if you want the pre-made Honey B Healthy Original Feeding Stimulant with Essential Oils, 16oz Bottle, then this is your link. Both options use essential oils in their recipes. This is going to be a natural and healthier way to treat your honey bees. Here is a link to one of my favorite beekeeping blogs, HoneyBeeSuite, briefly talking about the importance of using essential oils in a bee hive.

Super secret homemade Honey-B-Healthy recipe, Ingredients:

4 cups of water

1/8 teaspoon (pinch) of Sunflower Lecithin Powder, (emulsifier)

20 Drops of Lemongrass Essential Oil, (antibacterial, antifungal)

20 Drops of Spearmint Oil, (Digestive enhancer)

20 Drops of Tea Tree Essential Oil (antibacterial, antiseptic, antiviral, & antifungal)

1 blender

Instructions:

  1. Put the water in the blender
  2. Put the proper amount of oils in the water
  3. Add a pinch of lecithin granules to the water
  4. Place the top of the blender on.
  5. Turn it on a low setting for about 5 minutes. This gives the lecithin time to emulsify the oils in the water so they do not separate.
  6. Pour into any glass jar you can put a lid on. This is your concentrate, keep it stored out of the sunlight till you’re ready to use it.
  7. Last step, add 1 ounce of your concentrate to each gallon of sugar syrup that you feed your honey bees, whether it’s a 2:1 or a 1:1 ratio.

Many beekeepers like to heat their sugar syrup. I used to until I learned that heating sugar creates a type of toxin. Mixing my sugar in cold water works just fine, it simply takes longer. But it’s okay. Click here to learn some pretty awesome stuff about these essential oils: Lemongrass, Tea tree, and Spearmint.

When to treat your bees Using your concentrate that you either made or bought, mix it with your feed and give it to your bees mid-late fall before the frost date in your area. You want to give them a good chance to get this feed in the hive before they begin clustering in the cooler weather. They will still take it as the weather becomes cooler but much more slowly.

~ I recommend feeding at least 1 gallon of Honey-B-Healthy mix to each colony.~

When to treat your bees The second treatment should be just as the first but in late winter-early spring, when it’s warm enough to pop the lid on your hives for a quick check. This will ensure they are coming into the new year with a good, clean start.

Naturally treated for Nosema, these beehives are happy and healthy.
Treat your hives well going into winter and they will treat you well coming into Spring.
Photo by Jonathan Hargus

Well that’s it and I really feel that if I can do this than you certainly can too! Don’t forget, don’t wait until you see the signs. Prevention and thinking ahead are the keys to successful ninja beekeeping.

If you haven’t read my first blog about protecting your beehives from Varroa devastation then check it out now and look for my next blog where I cover how to prevent American Foulbrood. Until then remember,

~Weeds are Wildflowers, let them Bee.~

Jonathan Hargus/Beekeeper Extraordinaire

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