Notes from FIBKA Spring Tour Lecture with Dr Kirsten Traynor 24/03/18


Dr.Kirsten Traynor of Flickerwood Apiary. Maryland, U.S.A. was invited by FIBKA to speak to beekeepers in Ireland. Dr. Traynor has a doctorate in Bee Biology and is the editor of the American Bee Journal. She has studied differences between European and American beekeeping and has published a number of books and has done many other studies. She was invited to speak in each of the provinces and had different lectures in each one. The Munster Lecture was held in The Horse and Jockey Hotel. Thurles on Saturday 24/03/18. This was a great venue, even though parking was at a premium. The lecture was held in a theatre hall which made it easy to see her and her presentation. There were approximately 80 people there, some of whom were travelling to hear all her lectures. The topics for the afternoon were ‘Halting the Unstoppable Swarm’ and ‘American Foul Brood’

Dr. Traynor was introduced by Gerry Ryan, President FIBKA. She told us she manages 40 hives organically and sells 150 Nucs and 200 Queens annually.

I can only give you a flavour of her lecture as the speed and volume of material presented was tremendous and many of us gave up writing altogether. Gerry Ryan tells me that there will not be a report on her lectures as FIBKA were not given permission to video the proceedings and much as he tried to keep notes, he also succumbed to listening and enjoying the quality of the presentation, which was superb .

Halting the Unstoppable Swarm

Kirsten says, if you want honey you must do swarm control. You will lose 50% of your colony when the bees swarm.

She says it is less about what you do but when you do it.

Good swarm management is one of the hardest things to learn. Despite a beekeeper’s best efforts, some colonies just insist on getting ready to go.

The colony is growing from March and will be at its peak in June/July and when you have 20 -30k bees in a hive they can swarm if a nectar flow is on.

What to look out for:

When they start backfilling the brood nest with nectar, they are getting ready to swarm

Lack of laying space. Give the Queen plenty of room to lay.

When you see the half open peanut type cell it’s a bit too late

When pollen in cells starts getting shiny….that is a sign they are getting ready to go

Newly drawn drone comb is sharp at the edges..another sign

When you see eggs in the peanut cup they are in swarm mode and will be difficult to stop.

Precursors to Swarming

If nectar flow is good… Swarm season comes fast

Drawing lots of new comb

Wax building that looks disorganised

Bee congestion…a real cause of swarming

Lots of drone rearing..this will be happening 6-8weeks before they swarm

If you see Queen cups with eggs or swarm cells with larvae…you may be too late.

Steps to stop Swarming

Dr. Traynor prefers not to clip the queen

Hive reversal. She overwinters on two brood boxes

Early on provide room for the queen to lay

Drone Comb Cutting..this is also useful for varroa control.

Do a shook swarm and feed. With litle brood to care for all bees are drawing foundation and engaged in honey production

When queen cells have eggs give frames to weaker colonies

Harvest often. When frames are 80-90% capped..extract and give drawn comb frames back to the bees. This also reduces the amount of equipment you need

Super early with drawn comb between frames of foundation if possible.

Dr.Traynor says, that small swarms in Summer are not worth taking

If you breed a queen from swarm cells you will have swarmy bees

The best beekeepers are good record keepers, according to Dr. Traynor.

We then had a coffee break where there was much interaction between the  beekeepers present. The buzz in the room was great

American Foul Brood.

Her principal message on AFB was that there is no shame in it, and beekeepers should not be embarrassed to say it has happened

It is only bad if you try to hide it.


It is a highly contagious disease.

If it happens it requires a community effort to respond and to test and clean up all the hives in the area because bees can fly in a radius of up to 3 miles.

Beekeepers often feel ashamed when their hives come down with AFB, mistakenly believing that they are bad beekeepers. But it is the strongest, healthiest colonies that often bring back contagious spores after robbing out sick colonies in the neighborhood and feeding it to young larvae. Your colony then becomes a sick colony and ripe for robbing, thus spreading more and more of the disease. Most hives with AFB will die if nothing is done and will have infected many more colonies in the process! Only be embarrassed if you do not recognise it.

Spores survive for more than 40 – 70 years


Regularly inspect hives and know what you are looking for.

Spore count rises 1-2 yrs before it breaks out in the hive. It will be in the honey. Honey samples can be tested in Germany. Contact Micheal Gleeson of FIBKA for advice.

The larvae ingest the spores after being fed by infected nurse bees. The cell is sealed and the spores multiply.The cocoon is not spun. The larvae ferments in the cell and caps burst. You will see caps that are thinner and sunken and some perforated. The brood pattern in heavily infected colonies has a scattered uneven pattern.

Test the cell by lifting the contents with a tweezers or a match stick. The slime is brownish in colour in the cell and comes out in a rope like fashion and snaps back.

If you suspect AFB, isolate the hive, take a sample of brood comb from suspect area 6″ square and send to Mary Coffey immediately.

What to do

Don’t buy old equipment. Don’t buy in the problem.

If you see anything on your frames that doesn’t match health…investigate it. Take photographs also.

Monitor spores in honey cells by sending them for testing…see above

If you suspect AFB you must act quickly

If only a single cell is infected you may be able to save the colony by putting the bees in a new box on all clean equipment. Starve them for 3 days. Allow them out to forage. Scrape down any wax drawn and remove any brood drawn and burn. Any spores in the bee’s honey stomach will have been used up making the wax.

Other than that you must kill the colony with Sulphur Dioxide and burn all equipment that is in poor shape. Polystyrene doesn’t burn well.

If you have new equipment, clean up the hive, crown board , roof and bottom board by torching well. However it is better to boil what you can in a bath of caustic soda solution. Bleach does not kill the spores. Irradiation may not kill spores. Freezing does not kill the spores. You must remove every bit of propolis and wax as the spores will be hiding in them. You can use the wax for candle making, if you want, but it must not be used with bees again. The honey is fit for human consumption. You need to be very careful how and where you do this so as not to reinfect other equipment

Hygiene is hugely important so as not to contaminate other hives. Nip it in the bud.

AFB is a notifiable disease. Treat it or it will cost you.


“Only by working in a group can you free yourself from AFB. Working by yourself, you can’t clean up an area. One keeper sanitises and then his bees are re-infested from a neighbour. But it works when a whole area sanitises together, thus making sure apiaries can’t spread AFB”—Guido Eich..a Master Beekeeper