“Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic; but destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country.” William Jennings Bryan

Sunday, November 22, 2009

November 22, 2009

Lately I’ve been asked how my bees are doing…I’m not really sure…

The swarm I caught and successfully hived last spring has been decimated by the varroa mite. The varroa mite feeds on pupae; disfiguring and weakening the ones that survive to become bees, to an extent that these affected bees cannot forage, and do not live too long. Over time mites weaken the colony through population loss and subsequently lack of food. As the colony continues to weaken, it cannot defend itself from other insect pests or from robbing by stronger colonies of honey bees. The mites attach themselves to robbing bees, and are then spread through the apiary. My other hives have evidence of mites, yet so far these colonies show evidence that they are strong enough to keep the mite populations from reaching damage causing thresholds.

I had few choices with the mite infested colony – treat it with pesticides or close it up and let it die off. Not easy choices for me. I want to stay pesticide free here at the farm. I do not want my colonies to become dependent on pesticides. And even if I broke my principle and treated, there still would not have been enough bees to overwinter successfully. On the other hand, it is not easy to kill off a colony. It is no different than euthanizing a favorite pet, as these colonies are a part of the farm and our family as is every other living being here. But unfortunately, it is what I had to do.

I removed three frames of honey, said a short prayer, and closed the hive, sealing up the entrance and securing the covers, ensuring that the weakened colony would not be robbed and mites carried to my other three colonies.

After a week – which is the period that mites without host bees will die – I will give the three honey frames to the “log” colony (October 15 post) for winter reserves to improve their chances of survival. In this way, the colony will not have existed for nothing.

Next year, I will change some things around to aggressively manage mites. There are a few things I can do that do not involve pesticides, such as using screened bottom boards, foundationless frames, feeding them with essential oils, and dusting them with powdered sugar….but more on all this later.

The “log” colony is doing well. The queen is laying eggs, there is brood, and the workers are making comb and capping some honey. It is still a small colony and I cannot even begin to speculate on its chances of surviving. With the three frames of honey from the lost colony, along with a frame of honey donated by a fellow “no-pesticide” bee keeper, there are four full frames of honey reserves, making chances of survival a whole lot better than they were a month ago.

The other two colonies are very strong, with lots of bees, and reserves. The newest of these colonies, which I got last spring, has less reserves than I’d like, but it is what it is and I think that it will make it. All the bees from these colonies are still foraging in this warm fall, finding pollen and nectar, and taking sugar water. I’ve been treating them to mint candy, which contains natural menthol oil, and supposedly suppresses the mites.

In the end, nature will determine everything, and I respect that. Next spring will tell if there were enough reserves and not enough mites…

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