Nosema apis is a tiny one-cell parasite recently reclassified as a fungus. It causes a serious infection in bees that disrupts the health of the bee gut. The sick bee becomes not only disoriented and unable to do its normal activities such as foraging or caring for bee larva.



A honeybee alights on a fountain, searching for water

A foraging honeybee quenches its thirst on water fountain



Nosema is one, among many threats, to the global honeybee population. The infection has been associated with colony collapse disorder. But now science has shown that healing and improved survival rates from nosema (also known as nosemosis) is possible through the aid of probiotics.


In most instances, the fungus (that bees pick up as they ingest their food) causes no harm. But stress seems to create conditions for the fungus to invade and wreak havoc on the bee’s immune system. Just as probiotics support human gut microbiota (the microbe population in the human intestine) so, too, do probiotics appear to help the bee microbiota to better deal with a nosema infection.



Healthy bees on a frame

Healthy bees on a frame




In a Canadian study conducted by scientists at Université Laval in Quebec City, researchers discovered that they could lower the death rate of the bees suffering from nosema from 20 to 40 percent as compared to a control group by treating the sick bees with probiotics. In particular, a probiotic (P. apium) seemed to work best in the study.


Developing probiotics with specific microbes to contend with nosema is promising. But for beekeepers and scientists searching for the causes of colony collapse disorder, the work goes on to identify sources of stress that adversely affect the immune system of bees. For more information, see,





If you enjoy reading about gardening and farming topics, check out my Henny Penny Farmette series of mysteries: A BEELINE TO MURDER, THE MURDER OF A QUEEN BEE, and A HIVE OF HOMICIDES (Kensington Publishing).


Each book is chocked full of tips for gardening, keeping bees and chickens, and growing heirloom fruits and vegetables. There are also plenty of delicious recipes to try. Find these books in hardcover, paperback, ore ebook formats on, Barnes &, and other online retailers or purchase at traditional bookstores everywhere.–Meera Lester




All available online and in bookstores everywhere

All available online and in bookstores everywhere












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Put Your Eyes and Nose on Your Hives

Author: Meera, September 25, 2015

As a beekeepeer, I sniff my hives as well as visually examine them for signs of hive health. A healthy hive smells pleasant but an unhealthy one can emit a foul odor.



meera in beekeeper suit lg em



This time of year, honeybee hives should be checked for populations of mites. Especially destructive is the Varroa destructor mite and the tracheal mite. Mite populations can rapidly increase and decimate a hive.



The Varroa destructor mites are true “blood suckers” and feed on adult bees (especially drones or males) and baby bee larvae.



I inspect for deformed bees (like wings missing), red or brown spots on bee larvae, or pinpoint-size mites (looking like ticks) clinging behind a bee’s head or between its abdominal sections.  It’s best to treat immediately when the signs are clear that there’s a problem in the hive. If it smells foul, there could be an infection.



In fact, beekeepers need to stay vigilant for all kinds of illnesses that can harm their hives: mites, bacterial infections, and/or even predators placing hive’s health at risk.



The scent of honey and the hum of bees busily working inside the hives can be reassuring to a beekeeper, but doesn’t eliminate the need for regular inspections, especially in autumn. You want your hives to be healthy enough to make it through whatever conditions winter brings.


For bee tips, recipes, and a killer cozy mystery, check out my newest offering: A BEELINE TO MURDER. See,




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Time to Open the Hives, Check on the Bees

Author: Meera, January 19, 2015
Honeybees make a nice sundown snack for marauding skunks and raccoons

Worker honeybees on a frame of wax



My honeybees have become surprisingly active for the dead of winter. Local forecasters tell us that the Bay Area temperatures may reach 80 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the week. My apple and early peaches won’t wait; they’ve already blossomed.


The warm weather, time of year together with the fact that almond trees will be blooming in a couple of weeks and the lavender around my farmette is already blooming tells me I have to open the hives. My beekeeper neighbor says that his bees are already out collecting pollen–lots of it–and that means we have to get to work.


The hives have to be checked now for mold (that long period of hard rain in December caused some of my neighbor’s frames to mold). Moldy frames can’t be renewed; they have to be tossed. Honeybees can get nosema (with diarrhea), which shows up as spots at the base of the hive.


The bees are finding flowers on their forage runs and are returning to the hive laden with pollen.



The honeybee queen's "house"

The honeybee queen’s “house”



Bee queens will be busy laying eggs in the coming weeks, if they aren’t already. This is the time for beekeepers to purchase new queens.  By the first week in April, it’s possible we could see swarming.


So here’s the plan. If the hives have a lot of honey, I’ll harvest some. Strange to be doing that in winter, but the hive will need  space for brood. I’ll have to remove frames of honey and insert empty frames with wax (put in the freezer first for a period to kill any pest they might be harboring over).


I’ll put bee food patties in the open hives, so they’ll have plenty to eat (once I take some of their honey). My beekeeper neighbor tells me this will get the hive “heated up” for the queen to do what she does best–lay the eggs.


With so much activity, I’m confident that everything will turn out well, but you never know until you’ve inspected the interior of the hive and checked out everything, including the possibility of mold or the presence of pests or illness.



Golden honey draining from a frameinto a glass dish

Golden honey draining from a frame
into a glass dish



Mother Nature didn’t ask me, but I would have preferred she wait another month before removing her winter robes and dressing in spring florals. It just seems like now everything to do with the hives is on fast forward!



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Honeybee Disorders and Diseases

Author: Meera, July 15, 2013


Honey is sealed in a honeycomb on a frame that fits into a super

Honey (seen at the top) is sealed in comb on a frame that fits into a super


The beleaguered honeybee is threatened from environmental stresses, pests, and diseases that not only can decimate the bees but continually challenge modern beekeepers who must figure out how best to treat the problems.


Beekeepers against the use of chemicals within the hive believe there are other options available for dealing with these challenges such as breeding stronger, more resistant bees. That  can take years. Meanwhile, it is important to understand some of the problems that can assail a hive.



When you see a frame within the hive containing larvae that have turned chalky white, consider that you are likely dealing with chalkbrood. Infection is by a fungus, Ascosphaera apis, causing the larva to die after its cell has been capped. Only the larvae are susceptible.  Healthy hives of bees can usually clean up the problem on their own. Re-queening the hive and rotating out the old comb comprise the best course of treatment.



Nosema cerrane is a fungus infection of the adult bee, affecting the intestinal tract that results in diarrhea. The disease can weaken the bees and diminish the health of a hive. Heathy hives can usually fend off and recover from Nosema, but hives that are already week are more susceptible to Nosema infection.


Tracheal Mites

Tracheal mites infect the trachea (windpipe) of honeybees. Look for extended wings (when infected, bees are not able to fold their wings against their abdomens); missing wings, and dead bees on the ground outside of the hive.


Treatment consists of placing menthol crystals in the hive and leaving them for 14 days when temperatures at at 60 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The bees breathe in the menthol and mites die. Honey from medicated hives should not be consumed; frames for honey (for human consumption) can be put into the hive three to four weeks after medication is removed.


Alternatively, some beekeepers advocate using solid vegetable shortening and sugar patties, believing the bees eat the sugar and the shortening gets on their bodies making it difficult for mites to reproduce or attach to bees. A commercially available product Apiguard is also effective but must be used as directed. Do not treat when honey flow is on.


Most articles about treating bees with medications also warn that such treatments will contaminate the honey for human consumption and suggest treating bee colonies during certain times of the year, not treating during honey flows. Beekeepers are always advised to use medications according to instructions that come with them.


Varroa Mites

This external parasite of honeybees  showed up in hives in the United States around 1980. Facing little resistance from American honeybees, it attacked adult and larvae, preferring drone (male) larvae to worker bee larvae. In addition to the mite’s direct attack on bees, it serves as a transmittor for viruses that can infect bees.


Treatment varies. One is to finely dust powdered sugar onto all the bees so the mite can no longer ling to the bees. Thus losing their grip, they fall off. Another treatment is to insert drone (male bee) comb. The mites prefer the drone larvae ( larger and develop over a longer period).


Once the mites infect the drone larvae, the drone comb is removed and put into a freezer, killing the mites. After a period of freezing, unseal the comb, return to the hive, and healthy worker bees will clean it.


Bee genetics might prove to be effective in the long run for dealing with the dreaded varroa mite. In the Primorsky region of Russia, a strain of bees have been found to be more than twice as tolerant to the varroa mite as conventional bee stocks and also more resistance to the tracheal mite. So after a period of quarantine, these Russian bees are available for commercial purpose in the United States.


Beekeepers can also control populations of mites using miticidal strips. These are hung inside the hive and must be handled and disposed of as hazardous material. Unfortunately, the mites are developing increasing resistance to the chemicals in miticides.



The spore-forming bacterium Bacillus larvae is the most dreaded perhaps of all bee brood diseases–American foulbrood. European foulbrood is another brood disease of such highly infectious nature as to require the burning of the hive.


In American foulbrood, the bacterium infects larvae up to three days old producing millions of spores. Some bees are more susceptible to this highly communicable disease than others.


Teramycin (oxytetracycline) is the only drug approved to treat American Foulbrood Disorder. Many beekeepers use this drug annually as a prophylactic treatment for their hives. Once a hive is infected, burning the infected hive or hives is the only solution to stop the spreading since the spores can remain viable in honey and the beekeeping equipment for decades.


Note: Recommended reading: Top-Bar Beekeeping, Organic Practices for Honeybee Health, by Les Crowder and Heather Harrel (Chelsea Green Publishing 2012) and Keeping Bees and Making Honey, by Alison Benjamin and Brian McCallum (David and Charles Publishing 2008). See also,








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