Treat for mites, or nah?

This is a hot topic in the beekeeping community, and no opinion is necessarily correct. Mites are currently the main killer of honeybees. They are parasitic bugs that weaken the bees, damage their wings, and kill them off relatively quickly.

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See the little round mite on the emerging drone bee

The mites lay eggs on bee larvae, and the eggs usually hatch at about the same time as the new bee emerges. The mites remain attached to the bees and suck their blood out for food and sustenance. This affects them in the following ways:

  1. It weakens the bees and the larva
  2. The bees weigh less than normal
  3. Their lifespan is shortened
  4. They have less ability to navigate their way around and find their way home
  5. Bringing home less pollen and nectar means less food for their family
  6. They can be born with deformed wings, which results in the inability to fly

10541396_823646644063_86980994505566243_oThis was a drone bee climbing up a blade of grass. It would continuously climb up the blade over and over again. It could not fly because it was born with damaged wings from mites. 

So, obviously the bees should be treated for mites, right? That is very debatable.

For many people, the idea of using chemicals to control the mite population is painful to think about. Honeybees have existed just fine for all of eternity until recently. Leave them alone.

Personally, I wanted to avoid using treatment. I lost about half of my hives because of that.

  • The 1st year, I used no treatment. All of the hives died.
  • The 2nd year, I treated 1 out of 2 hives as an experiment. The untreated hive died in early fall.
  • The 3rd year, I was planning to wait until fall to treat the hives. One died by early September.
  • Last year, we had so many swarms (new hives) we didn’t know when to do it. Our strongest, most honey-producing hive died in September.

What we are doing this year (so far):

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On our 2 surviving hives (not our new Carniolans), we treated them with Mite-Away Quick-Strips which is made of Formic Acid. There are multiple methods of treating mites, and there is no certain one that we consider to be best. We chose this because the treatment could be done in 7 days before we put honey supers on the hives.

These photos show how much the bees do not like the strong scent of formic acid. They spent much of the first 24 hours bearding on the front of the hive to avoid it.

Hopefully, someday, honeybees will be able to build up a tolerance to survive the mites without human intervention. But until then, we plan to treat them as needed.

Interesting fact: Varroa mites really like the nurse bees.

Spring into spring

It’s amazing how quickly winter weather can turn into springtime. We’ve been rushing around with bee related things, and are finally able to take a moment to give an update.

Winter survival

Every few weeks during the winter, I place my ear directly on a hive and listen for action. It’s usually a consistent humming sound that I hear when they are doing well. As of February, this was how they were doing:

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While it is sad, it is also to be expected. One of those hives was weak to begin with, and 2 others were tipped back like this one in the middle:

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Something similar happened last year, so I imagine that they died from excessive moisture getting in there when the snow melted. The frames of honey and the dead bees are moldy. To fix this problem, we are throwing down some top soil to try and have the hives on a tiny incline.

Don’t worry, we got some more bees!

We enjoyed our sweet Carniolan bees so much last year (even though they died), that we ordered more from Hungry Bear Farms. We got notification on April 5th, along with a letter telling us not to panic about installing them in winterish weather.

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We pretty much never see bees leave their hives when it is below 45 degrees (brief bathroom breaks only), and they supposedly can’t even fly if it’s below 55 degrees. It was in the low 30s and snowing on April 7th. Feeling too bad about torturing them with the cold weather, we went with this option:

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It ended up being in the mid 40s, so we went for it that afternoon.

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We decided to put them into a nuc box to help keep them insulated while it was still cold. An entrance reducer made out of foam was taped to the front, and we gave them (along with the other living hives) some sugar patties to keep them well-fed. Now we have 3 living hives.

Interesting fact: The bees create a cluster around the queen in the wintertime that keeps the inside hive temperature between 81-95 degrees.

God save the queen

We did the spring inspection before picking up our new girls today. I knew they were active, but I was pleasantly surprised at how well they were doing. Those are some worker cells in the top left of this first photo. Can you find the queen?

fullsizeoutput_a4fThere she is! She is seriously beautiful. Look how all of her workers are doting on her.

fullsizeoutput_a51We had to pick up our package bees this afternoon, which meant we needed to clean out one of our dead hives. I chose this one. This is what it looks like when a colony starves over the winter.

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Starvation causes them to drop directly to the bottom board. What was extra gross about this one, is the hive was tipped back a little due to the ground settling, and water gathered in the back of the bottom board. The scent of dead, moldy bees was absolutely foul. They sure had enough honey- in fact we are extracting honey from a few of the full frames they left behind. This was a weak colony, and I was not expecting them to survive.

Interesting fact: I did not get stung today, but I should have with all the time I spent harassing them.

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Never ending tribulations of beekeeping

This is a pricey hobby. $3,152.63 has been spent on beekeeping supplies since 2014, and we’ve only made about $220 selling honey.

The summer of 2016 began with 4 strong hives. By November there were 3 weak hives, and now spring of 2017 we are starting off with 1 hive which seems to be doing okay. So 75% of the bees didn’t make it, which sadly, is typical.

I know what killed them. The strongest hive took off, or absconded, in the fall because it failed to produce a new queen after its July swarm. The second strongest hive died from starvation- a brief change in temperature over the winter got them to be more active, and they didn’t have the energy to crawl 5 centimeters up to their stored honey once the cold returned. The weakest hive died because of their strength in numbers. They produced no supplemental honey last year, so this was no surprise.

This beekeeping season begins with a goal in mind. We want to begin overwintering nucs and attempt queen rearing so that we can end the cycle of having to buy new queens each year.

Interesting fact: Colony Collapse Disorder was NOT the cause for any of our hives, ever, to die.