“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

Saturday, April 6, 2013

April 6, 2013

The hardest thing for me is bees. The hives just don’t make it. And I don’t think it’s me as a beekeeper… I think that there is just not enough nectar or pollen in the area to support all the bees. Popularity is great, but it might be killing them.

I have been doing bees for almost five years now, and my losses have averaged over 50% every year. As recently as last September, 2012, I had seven hives and today I have three. Two hives lost queens to unknown reasons late last fall and two starved during the winter. A long time beekeeper told me the other day that he has lost nine out of ten hives due to starvation. These loses aren’t a new phenomenon. These are accepted as normal.

At every bee club meeting I attend I am told to feed, feed, and feed my bees. Almost any sugar will do – sugar water, fondant, fructose corn syrup, etc. The more food, whether natural or not, will allow the hive to increase it’s population, raise more forage bees, and in theory, make more honey.

Whenever I have started new hives and haven’t fed them, they never expanded much. The ones that I fed got bigger, but not big enough for extra honey. (And I always wondered if the honey they did make wasn’t from foraged nectar but instead made from the sugar I was feeding them?) There was a year that I had an exception.  A few of my hives expanded without being fed and produced enough excess honey that I could take some off. That year was definitely an exception. Yet two of those hives are dead now too.

If we can’t raise bees without feeding them sugar, it has to mean that there just is not enough food out there. Maybe with all the popularity of bees, are there now too many honey bees and not enough flowers? The State tries to track and count hives, but do they count flowers?

If you look around the area I live in, there isn’t a field of wildflowers and there certainly aren’t many farms with flowering crops (and the farms that exist are small like mine). Right of ways are cut down, weeds are killed, etc….what’s left are backyard gardens, and a few flowers decorating houses. I don’t think that’s enough. It can’t be.

I bought fondant a week ago and put some in each of my three remaining hives to get them through these last days of winter. After the two that I previously mentioned starved, I felt I needed to do something. My plan, which seems to be working, is to only feed them until they start foraging, which is already happening. At the most, each hive will get less than a pound of sugar, which is a lot less and a lot better than 10, 20, or 50lbs plus which I have heard some people in this area are forced to do to keep their hives going for awhile.

And then there is this: Area beekeepers are beginning to suspect that maybe the sugar water that is being fed to the bees isn’t acid enough, which compromises the bee’s digestive system, and eventually weakens the hive for mites and disease. A granted study is being proposed.

But I think – feeding them doesn’t help and feeding them is killing them? Something is wrong here. From my lay person’s perspective, it’s a merry –go – round situation. I had been told long ago that the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again expecting different results. If something isn’t working, try another way.

What I think we need is more weeds and less hives. A few strong hives are better than an apiary of weak, sugar boosted hives that are unsustainable and susceptible to disease and mites.

 I am beginning to think that bees can be as simple as that. We need to work in natures balance.