The saying “may you live in interesting times” is often quoted as an old Chinese curse. It turns out this probably came from the British diplomatic service in the 1930’s rather than China, but it is apt to our situation nonetheless. We live in interesting times. March has been an especially interesting month for me, personally, and of the various stories I could tell I thought an early swarm might be the most interesting.
Well, this post got stuck in my queue and never made it out before Christmas, much to my dismay. I have had a wonderful holiday so far, and even though it is December 26 I thought I would post my annual bee song regardless. I think my first such post in 2015 was still my best; this year I used my darling wife’s favorite as the basis for my poetry.
This is sung to the tune of White Christmas. I tried to write it from the point of view of the bees, sitting in their cluster even as I type. Enjoy.
We’re buzzing for a bright Springtime
Just like the ones we used to know
Where the tree buds glisten
and evenings misting
So nectar and pollen start to flow
We’re buzzing for a bright Springtime
With every wing beat that I form
My our cluster be merry and warm
And may all your colonies go swarm
May you prosper and find honey in 2020. Happy New Year!
Our local club held a Mite Assessment Workshop in my yard this past weekend, so thought it might be a good time to review my mite status. I’m a little laid back when it comes to Varroa mites. I only use organic compounds, and only when my counts exceed my threshold.
This was actually our second workshop of the year. We had one in April, also in my yard. I try to check the hives once a month, and having workshops in my yard in April and August certainly helps me keep up!
The classic bees vs mites curve, shown below with caption from Randy Oliver’s Scientific Beekeeping web site, illustrates the problem. After the summer solstice in June, the bee population ramps down in preparation for winter. The mites keep chugging along, and without an intervention the mites overwhelm the bees in fall or winter.
The main problem with Varroa, of course, is the viruses they vector. Like mosquitoes, which transmit Zika, dengue fever, malaria, and other diseases into humans, Varroa mites transmit deformed winged virus (DWV), acute bee paralysis, and other viruses into honey bees. That’s why humans work to keep the mosquito population down, and why beekeepers should work to reduce mite populations.
In any case, back to my hives. I captured one swarm and have made some splits, so I now have 9 hives. Here is a table of my mite checks in 2019. This shows the number of mites seen per 300 bees. I use a threshold of 2%, which is 6 mites from my roughly 300 bee sample.
|Hive Name||Apr 28||May 18||Jun 30||Aug 25||Notes|
|Venus||13||1||–||–||Treated with Formic May 4, removed May 12|
|Pandora||2||–||3||34||Treated with ApiGuard Aug 25|
|Calypso||3||–||10||0||Treated with ApiGuard Jul 21, added ApiGuard Aug 4, removed Aug 18|
|Mercury||–||–||1||–||Ran out of time, didn’t check|
As you can see, I had a high value (10) in Venus on April 28, and another in Calypso (13) on June 30. Since these exceeded my threshold of 6, I treated Venus with Formic Pro, and Pandora with ApiGuard. The subsequent reading in each of these hives verified that my treatment worked well.
In our workshop, there are few high readings, but Pandora really stands out with 34 mites, which is over 11%. Readings above 18 (6%) are considered a likely winter death. Perhaps these bees had drifting from Calypso (right next to her) or picked up mites elsewhere. Replacing this queen is a good idea, since her workers clearly do not handle mites well and we don’t want to preserve such terrible genetics.
I should point out that a high value like this is also problematic because even with a solid treatment mites are left behind. Say we kill 90% of mites, that leaves 10% in the hive. So starting at 34, we should still see 3-4 mites per 300 bees in a subsequent test. This is why I treated right away with ApiGuard, to get this started, and I will consider a follow-on treatment of Formic Pro. I will definitely look to replace this queen at my first opportunity.
My top bar hive row, with Saturn, a medium nuc, Titan2, and Venus, all had a reading near 6. I need to get some Formic (I am out) so I can treat these hives, as this time of year the numbers will only rise. We didn’t test Venus because her bees are a bit aggressive and I didn’t want to open her up around visitors. I need to replace this queen as well, I think.
Even though the other hives tested okay, I will check them again soon, especially Venus and Mercury. In the fall mite counts can rise rapidly, and with a “mite bomb” like Pandora nearby drift can be a real problem.
By performing regular checks, I have a sense of which hives are faring well (most of them) and which ones are a problem (Venus and Pandora), so this will help me decide some strategies going into winter.
This popular song from the musical Grease is about the summertime affair between the main characters Danny and Sandy. The most popular version of the song was performed by John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John in the hit movie released in 1978.
For my bees, the days and nights have certainly been hot and heavy lately. This past week is the first time we’ve had daytime temperatures regularly below 90 F (32 C) for a while. When I though of our hot summer, this song just popped into my head. So it seems an appropriate metaphor for this particular post.
May you prosper and find honey.
Working to re-start my blog with a post from the Eastern Apicultural Society’s 2019 Short Course & Conference in Greenville, South Carolina in the United Status. I am sitting in my hotel room Tuesday evening after the second day of the conference. As is typical for EAS, the first two days are set up as a short course on beekeeping: beginner, intermediate, and advanced instruction along with an outside Apiary for demonstrations and discussions. The rest of the week is a more traditional conference with keynote speakers and classroom lectures. Continue reading
A short post to link an article from the online magazine Otia.io. They contacted me earlier this year and the exchange led to the following article: Erik Brown, Director and Program Manager on Beekeeping. Basically they sent me an interview questionnaire, and turned my answers into the article. Kind of cool. Continue reading
A quick update on the bees. Our temperatures have been unseasonably cold. We’ve had a few sunny days in the 50’s (above 10 C) that have gotten the bees out and about, though many nights are below freezing. I went into the hives last weekend, and my five remaining hives seem to be doing well.
I just finished a wonderful book about on bumble bees. Given the flowers and the bees are both holding out for some warmer weather, I thought a post might be in order. As described in my post Endless bees most beautiful and most wonderful, bumblebees are classified in the same Family as honey bees, the Family Apidea. They have their own Genus, the Genus Bombus, distinct from the Genus Apis where the honey bee is found. The word Bombus comes from the Greek bombos for “a buzzing sound” which is certainly characteristic of these bees. Continue reading
I could have called this To Feed or Not To Feed, though I used that quote a while ago. This is an age-old dilemma for beekeepers in the fall, as natural honey from real nectar is the best food for bees. However, if the hive runs out in the winter, the bees will die of starvation. So should you feed, or not? That is the question.
Last year my hives did just fine, though I did feed them some. Going into winter my top bar hive Venus had about 12 combs with honey, while my two Langs Mars and Jupiter had a deep-medium-medium and a deep-medium respectively.
This year I have some hives with great stores of honey, and others with not so much. One challenge with the different frame sizes in my hives is that it makes it hard to move stores around. Mars and Jupiter have medium frames, Ganymede has deeps, Venus has 14-inch top bars, and Saturn has 19-inch top bars. Something to address next year, perhaps.
This is my first post written on an iPhone, so my formatting options are limited. Here is the story of my decisions to feed in pictures.
Venus lost her queen in May and the population dwindled until the new queen’s offspring emerged toward the end of June. The hive was low on food and bees going into our traditional summer dearth, so I used this Boardman feeder to provide sugar syrup. The feeder is at the back of the hive, which keeps it far from potential robbers.
Mars must have swarmed late, as I found only queen cups and a low bee population mid-June. Stores were low and I was again worried about a summer dearth, so I used the top feeder that you can see in this image.
I thought our hive Saturn was well off, then I did a full inspection on August 28. Much more brood and bees than honey, so I felt the need to intervene. For this hive I used Wyatt Magnum’s suggestion of cutting down a plastic trash bin. This shows the bin with the top cut off.
If you feed a pig, you’ll have a hog
This proverb comes from The Dictionary of American Proverbs. Apparently you make a hog by feeding a pig a lot. Who knew! The book says this was recited in North Carolina, and originally appeared in Thomas Fuller’s 1732 book Gnomologia: adagies and proverbs.
I thought my modified title was apropos for a post on feeding my hives. In case you were wondering, writing on an iPhone is much more limiting than on a PC. It appears to work, though.
Now that winter is fast approaching, I finally checked for varroa mites in my hives. I should have done this over the summer, even once a month starting in May or June. Then I would have some good numbers for how my hives fared over the course of the year. Alas, tis not the case.
Between vacations and family and work this summer, it seemed like I was only home long enough to catch my breath and do quick inspections of the hives. So one day I realized it was the end of August and I’d done no more than think about the possible mites in our hives. Continue reading