Results of banana for chalkbrood test

by Flow Hive 18 min read

Today Cedar returned to the chalkbrood infected hive to see whether the trick of putting bananas in the hive had helped with the infection. He inspects the brood and answers your questions on chalkbrood and other beekeeping subjects.




Video Transcription

Thank you for joining us today, we're doing myth-busting part two. So this hive here has a bad case of chalkbrood, which is a fungus that affects the bees as they're in their pupation phase. They actually get this fungus all over them and it kills the larvae. And it turns into what looks like a little piece of chalk. Hence the name chalkbrood. Have a look at this in the tray down the bottom. We've got a lot of chalkbrood and I mean a lot. This is what's falling out the bottom of the hive. So this hive really does have a bad case of chalkbrood and it hasn't gone away. So what we did is we put banana skins into this hive. Now, it might be a myth or it might be true, but some people swear by putting bananas inside the hive, it turns the bees into a state where they clean all of the chalkbrood out. Others believe that it releases some type of gas, which actually helps kill that fungus in the hive. So whatever it is, let's see whether it has actually worked. It's been about a month now, the bananas have been in here. That's what this piece is about. It's just a frame called an eke, that I made out of an inner cover. And the bananas are then on top of the brood frames. So let's see whether it's myth or not. If you've got experience with this, or you have an idea about this, put it in the comments below.

We've got our smoker. We're smoking the front of the hive to calm those bees down a bit. Make sure you're protecting yourself. Get a good bee suit or a good bee jacket. Wear your pants, wear your gloves. So we'll get this roof off. Then I'm going to leave the inner cover on there's no need for me to take that off. As we were in here relatively recently, putting our bananas in the bees haven't actually glued up too much so we can probably find this box quite easily pulls off. Now with the Flow Hive, the rear door here Is the handle for the sideways direction. It's a nice, generous handle, much easier than a normal beehive handle. Sometimes it's quite heavy and you can just rock it back towards you like this, keeping the weight in the sideways direction. If you're going this way, it's harder. You're better off beside the hive like this. Then you can simply just rock it back. Now, this is pretty light showing the bees aren't doing too well. The numbers are dropping. I'm just going to put this on its end in front of the hive here. And we can lift up this excluder And it looks like the bees have chewed up all of the bananas. I can just see the remains of the skins.

Now the bees aren't too happy about me in here just now. So I'll add a little smoke to my hands, to mask my own pheromone. And to Jai behind the camera and then adding a little bit here as well. That's interesting, as we smoke it, the bees are clearing out of the way and we can see the remains of the bananas skins. They've actually used as bracing to build some comb on. Along here, they've bridged down from the banana skin to the top of the comb and turned that into one piece of comb. And over here they've used that shape and just built comb off it. It's quite amazing. Bees will use whatever space they've got to create comb. They don't necessarily do perfect matrixes of hexagons, they'll even do other shapes, squares, ovals, all sorts of things.

So what we need to do to know whether this banana technique has worked for this hive, is pull out some brood frames, have a look and see whether or not there actually is chalkbrood still in the frames. We've seen that it's in the tray. So we know they've been busy cleaning it out, but we don't know whether it's still persistent in the frames or not. So we can take off this next level.

So what I'm going to do is just gently pick apart the comb that's joining the frames together to give us access to pull one of these frames out. I'm looking in to see which frame is going to come out nice and easily. It looks like this one. You want to choose one that's not doesn't have any bridges going between the combs so it's easier to get out.

You can add a bit of smoke down between the frames so there are less bees when you pull that frame up. That way, you're less likely to roll bees. Moment of truth here, everyone. Is it a myth or does it work? Is there chalkbrood still in the frames? And oh dear, it looks like for this hive, it has not worked. We've got plenty of chalkbrood in this area here showing that this hive is in trouble with chalkbrood. So according to this scientific test of one, the chalkbrood banana thing is a myth. So there we go. If you've got a different opinion on that had different results, please chime in. But this is a bad case of chalkbrood. It's gotten much worse since we put the bananas in. So the test of one says, bananas make chalkbrood worse.

One thing we did that got a bit of comment was we left banana inside the banana skin. So we just sliced the bananas down lengthways and laid them on top of the frames. That's what some people say to do. Others say just the skins, not the bananas and watching the bees. When we put the bananas in with the banana inside, the bees actually thought it was a tasty meal and they were into the banana themselves. So perhaps it's better without the banana in there. But as you can see, we've got a terrible case of chalkbrood. You can see the mummies down the cells. So if you have an issue with chalkbrood, that's bad like this, you've already moved the hive into the sun.

The next thing to do is to change the genetics of the hive. And hopefully next time you get more hygienic genetics that can clear out the chalkbrood. Other things you can do is start getting rid of the old combs that have the pathogen load in them. So what we might like to do is shift this comb to the outer edge, wait for the brood to hatch, and then actually get rid of the wax that's in here and let them go again nice and fresh.

There's one that they're just pulling out of a cell and interesting that it's white and black. White is the mummy stage, the black is when it's actually spilling spores out into the hive. So this hive isn't doing very well with it. Ideally they get it out before it turns black and starts sporing more chalkbrood into the hive. While I'm in here, because this hive isn't doing so well, I'm also looking for signs of sunken dark capping with piercings in it to see if there's any issues with AFB or EFB in the hive. So important to check, especially when you see this kind of erratic pattern like this, but looks to me like this is a case of chalkbrood. And I can't see any AFB there, but good idea to go through all the combs to check.

So interesting that, I've never done the banana experiment before, but there we go. And it didn't work for this hive. An interesting thing about beekeeping. There's a lot of things that are scientifically proven, but there's a whole lot in beekeeping that isn't. And it tends to get perpetuated through the beekeeping circles. Because for that person who tried it, it worked for them in that location at that time. Now it could be these bees that aren't responding well to banana skins, but perhaps most other bees do. So we don't know for sure with a test like this, but what we do know is it didn't work for this hive. But try it if it works for you.

Look at this beautiful bee here with the big pollen bags on its back legs. It's very cool, beautiful orange pollen. They're bringing in to make theirbee bread. Now this hive looks like it could do with cycling out some of the frames. So you can see here that this has been used many times for brood. The cell walls are getting really thick, getting really dark pathogen load increases. Good idea to move that out towards the edges, wait for the brood to hatch, and then you can chop that right out and put the frame back towards the centre.

Let's just keep looking through this hive to see what we can see now. If they didn't have so many chalkbrood cells, you could see this hive would be quite healthy because their numbers are okay, even with so many larvae not making it. So it's a bit of a shame, she's a good layer and all, but just doesn't have the genetics to clean the house properly.

Chalkbrood Questions

That looks like a healthy hive and it looks like there's heaps of bees. Do you think it can just right itself?

It can and it often does. Really healthy numbers are often the cure to a lot of things because they can get on top of it and do the work needed in a hive in order to get things right again. Now this hive is a bit down on numbers, even though you see lots here. If you swing the camera around and have a look at this first hive in the row over here, have a look at the bee numbers present at the front of that. There's a lot of bees there. So when you've got a bunch of hives, you can start benchmarking what's going on. Now that hive has got heaps of bees, right at the entrance, showing us that showing us what a really healthy colony looks like at this time in this environment, in this location now that's doing well.

So if we want to get this poor chalkbrood infested hive back to looking like that, we're going to need to make some changes we're going to need to get in here, cut out some of that old infected comb and introduce some new genetics with a new queen into the hive. And what we'll probably see is a turnaround, the chalkbrood getting ejected before it goes through its spore stage and the hive coming back to full health again.

Do you think some of the other hives might have it and would you inspect all the other hives?

A good idea to inspect all the other hives to check on chalkbrood. Now it's a fairly common thing that you'll see around and the bees usually get on top of it, certainly in this area anyway. But yeah, good idea to make sure that it's not spreading around your apiary and try not to mix up the frames between this hive and other hives and so on. Because we don't want to spread the pathogens around if we can help it.

What will you do with the debris that's in the bottom of the tray?

Best if you can, is to put that in a fireplace because you don't really want to spread that around for other bees to potentially pick up those spores and bring them back into other hives.

I've heard that lemongrass works for chalkbrood.

Maybe that's another myth-buster we're going to have to try. Keep the ideas coming in. If you've got ideas of what to do, then we can test things here on myth-busting Flow Hive TV. And you know, it's really interesting as a community because we've got Flow Hives in 130 different countries and so many hives all around the world, we can actually together as a community, do some citizen science and really find out whether some of these things that are said to work really do work or not.

Is chalkbrood a notifiable disease? Do you have to let authorities know that you've got chalkbrood?

It's not, whereas AFB is. So if you find AFB, you do need to notify. If you notice by putting a stick down the cell and you get the stringy gooey bit coming out, you'll need to put that on a slide and send it away to get verification that that is the issue. And yes, then it's a notifiable thing.

Do you think the honey's going to taste like banana?

I guess it could. I mean, bananas release that interesting banana smell that permeates through your whole kitchen when you have bananas getting overripe in the corner. So there is a chance that the honey might smell like banana.

When you lifted off the super before you said it was really light and there wasn't much going on. Would you put the super back on or would it help to remove it?

It's still our autumn here and it's still quite warm, so there's no issues with the size of the hive making it harder for the bees. So, because I don't just want to take this off and leave it around for no reason. Because then vermin get in and wax moth, whatever, and it's harder to clean up. I'm just going to leave it on the hive in this case. If the colony was much smaller, I might consider taking it off and nursing the hive back to health in a single brood box or even a nucleus box.

Beekeeping Questions

If you take a super off a weak hive, can you put the same super on another hive that is strong and ready to go?

Look, you certainly can. But before you do that, make sure you get in there and check for pathogen issues. But it is common for beekeepers to move equipment from hive to hive. But when they do that, they do know that if they do have some issues with disease that could pass over to the other hives. So it's best to keep the equipment separate if you can. But it's also quite common for beekeepers to mix and match equipment between colonies. At a commercial level, they usually keep the hives in groups. So if they get an outbreak of AFB or something, then they might have 20 hives over here, another 20 over there and so on. So it's isolated to that group.

I noticed yesterday the bees were bringing in blue pollen. Where would bees get blue pollen? (Upstate New York, USA)

Oh, wow. Blue pollen must come from some nice flowers that have shining blue pollen grains. So around here we do see blue pollen, but it's pretty, pretty rare. So it'd be nice to see some blue pollen coming in. We mostly get oranges and yellows and whites and those kinds of tans.


We've actually had a customer email in recently saying they have blue honey.

Blue honey, no way! That would be an interesting one to follow up on. I have seen some pretty wild things where there was blue honey and bright red honey and all of these crazy colours coming in and it turned out the bees were foraging on the waste from a local M&M'S factory. And they were going nice sugar. This is going great. But of course it had all of the colouring in there and they were bringing that back into the hives. So the beekeepers were wondering what on earth was going on, but it turned out to be food dye. But blue honey, chime in if you know anything more about blue honey in the world. Perhaps there's flowers with nectar that's tinted blue, and they're condensing it into a nice blue looking honey.

Earlier you mentioned the shape of honeycomb cells. Why do they often build hexagons?

So if you've got an area, hexagon is the pattern that uses up the least wall area to fill that space. So let's say if they decided to do round, then there's all of this extra bit. You'd have to fill in the corners. If you decided to do triangles, there'd be a lot more wall section for a given number of cells. If you decided to do squares, there's a lot more wall section. So it's clever because that's the least use of wax for the given amount of storage. Also hexagons have a lot of strength to the pattern as well. So sometimes they're hanging 3, 4, 5 kilogrammes off that hexagon matrix, and you imagine the load on the cells up the top and they have to handle that. So bees are amazing little engineers.

What are your top tips for people who are wanting to get started in beekeeping?

My top tips would be don't hold back, but get yourself some education. And we have a great online course If you want to have a look at that, also agreat fundraiser that we're planning a million trees from this year. So we're very excited about that online course, experts from all over the world have put great training videos in there. So it's not just the local knowledge from here, but there's also other online courses and hands on courses that you can do. And another great thing to do is find somebody that's kept bees before, hopefully local to you. When your hive is small, get in there and get comfortable with doing brood inspections like this. If you wait till the colony is really big and there's heavy boxes on there, it'll be a harder task for you to get comfortable with beekeeping. We find that people who start small and build up get much more comfortable with doing their brood inspections than people who buy a hive that's already going and have to tackle it when it's a much bigger hive for their first beekeeping experiences.

How old is this hive?

That's a good question. There's some notes written on the inside, but I've just put the frames back. This hive would be a few years old, I guess. Looking at the comb, it's definitely a few years old. This comb has been through multiple seasons, perhaps three.

What I might do is clean off the bananas off the top of the frame, and we'll start putting this hive back together again.

You can see some nice big Teddy bear looking drones here. Drones are good ones to pick up because they don't have a stinger. So if you're going to pick up a bee and doing this one-handed, then pick up a drone and you know, the kids can play with that. You can see their eyes are joined together in the centre and are a bit more Teddy bear in shape. And you know, there's no danger of getting stung by a drone.

We're getting some interesting organic shapes here with our naturally drawn comb. Few holes that they've left through the comb. That's okay. If you use foundation, you won't see that. So this might be a good frame to put back towards the centre because it hasn't been used for brood so much. So we could move that in now and shuffle some frames around, being mindful to make sure no frames are going to be touching each other. Because we want to cycle out some of that old pathogen load chalkbrood comb. We're going to put it over near the edge and let it emerge. That one too, that could be a great one to go back towards the middle. The bees will then move that honey and it gives fresh new wax for the queen to lay her eggs in, and it won't have so much issues with the chalkbrood spores.

Okay, what I'm going to do is start getting these old dark combs and putting them back towards the edge. Now this one's nice and fresh-looking one as well, and it's really nice light comb. So I'm going to put that over in the centre as well. So we've put all the fresh-looking combs in the centre and we've got three that are sort of more dark and old that were in the centre. Then next time we come in here cycle out or cut out that comb to remove the pathogen load, remove some of those chalkbrood issues and that'll help this hive. Now what I'm going to do is just check that there isn't comb that's touching each other. One thing, when you do decide to move the frames around, is you don't want comb from this one touching comb from that one, when you press the frames back together.

The bees can't service the area where two combs are meeting. It'll take them a while to chew that away and reform it. And in that time, things like the hive beetle which are prevalent in this area can get in there, take the opportune moment to lay their eggs. And it can be the start of a real hive beetle slime out issue. So just make sure if you are moving the frames around, have a good look, make sure the wax comb part isn't pressing into another wax comb part. And if so, you can even just with your hive tool chip some of it away, if you need to. And that way the bees can get straight in there and service that area too. Okay. Let's put this back together now. We're going to have to schedule a new queen for this hive and hopefully that will fix our chalkbrood issues.

Okay. I'm just pressing the frames together, which is what you need to do to make sure they don't go wonky. Leave any excess space on both sides. You'll notice that Flow Hive boxes compared to conventional ones are a bit generous with the amount of space in the hive. Which you'll think is too generous in the beginning if you're a conventional beekeeper, but over time, you'll really start to appreciate the extra space. As you can see, as things build up a little bit, then there becomes not that much space on the edge, which is about right for manipulating the comb and taking that first frame out.

What's the best kind of smoker fuel?

The best kind of smoker fuel is the one you can get hold of, in my opinion. So I just use whatever I've got around. There are some pine trees over there. So I grab some pine needles. Often I'll use the garden mulch from mulching the garden with, but that was all wet today. So any dry leaves or bark from trees or anything like that is good.

So a little bit of smoke like that. And the bees just cleared right off the top of that frame, which is a very handy thing to be able to do when you need to scrape some wax off the top of the frame. And we do need to do that because we put the bananas in here. Now that's meant they've built a whole lot of wax here and to get the excluder back in place, we're going to have to scrape some of that wax off. So a little bit of smoke, and we can get that wax off. Now, if it's got any honey in it, you do need to make sure you take that away and not leave that out for other bees to come and forage on, because they all spread pathogens around. So being nice and patient, as you scrape along, giving the time for bees to get out of the way, I don't need to make it whistle clean, but some beekeepers like to just get it right back to wood, others, just leave, leave a bit of wax there. It's up to you.

Do you have to register if you only have one hive?

The answer is yes, you do need to register. There a small fee. Depends where you are in the world, but in Australia and many other countries, you register that you are a beekeeper. You pay a small contribution to help keep pests and diseases out of beekeeping and the services that you can access, like posting away slides of AFB slime, and things like that, which is a great service. So you can know what's going on in your hive. And also other information that's important will come through once you've registered. So we do have a reminder email, if you are one of our customers to do that.

What are your thoughts about needing to keep logs or records if you've only got one hive?

That's also an important thing to do. So just write down what's going on in your hive. And it's good practice, even if you only have one hive. And then once you have multiple hives, because bees have a habit of breeding up, you'll be in good practice to know what's going on. If you start to take a split from this hive to that hive and so on, and you'll be able to track where equipment went.

What do you do with the frames that you cycle out?

If they're just all honey, then you can chop out some of that comb and take it to your next gathering and it'll create great conversation and it'll be different flavours throughout the one honeycomb. And it'll be a nice thing. If it's just empty and just an old brown comb, in this case full of chalkbrood pathogens, then that'll just go in the fireplace. Great fire starter, old wax. And then you can burn your chalkbrood at the same time.

The queen excluder's going back on now. I'm just going to shake some bees off that. And there's not many bees up there right now. So I'm going to seize the moment just to put this Flow super back on. There's a few bees just around the lip there though. So what I need to do is get the smoker that just to get the bees off that area, or you can brush them off with a bit of foliage or a bee brush. I find foliage to be quite useful because it's disposable, not sharing pathogens between hives. You get all the bees off that rim there, and then you're good to go put that right back on. Now lining it up is it is a good thing to do. Try and get all the parts in line like that. And there we have it. We put the roof back on the panels back on.

Thanks very much for tuning in. The outcome was in this hive, in this location, putting banana skins or banana in the beehive did not work to solve the chalkbrood problems. If you've got any ideas on what else we can do myth-busting on, just let me know. Thanks again for all your great questions. Let us know what you'd like us to cover and do tell us if you'd like us to do some more myth-busting.

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