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.

“Shut up and let us do our jobs”- bees

I have made it a point to not check on the girls in weeks. Also, it’s been raining a whole heck of a lot. With all this time, they have been able to work without steady interruption, and in some cases, their progress is really showing.

Here is hive #1.

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This is currently competing for the award of “Weakest Hive.” On April 30th, this was the strongest hive, but since it swarmed 3 times, it is now just a tiny little thing. The last and final swarm of the season left their honey supply almost empty and without a queen for several weeks. There is still a chance it could make a comeback, as there are 2 frames filled with worker cells.

 

Here lies Hive #2, our first swarm caught, and the hive we are pretty certain that Dan is allergic to.

IMG_0284Do not let the 3rd box, our honey super, fool you into thinking that this one is doing well. This hive was once thriving and full of jerks, but it is now struggling to survive. While I was in there, I saw a queen emerge from a supercedure queen cell. Some of the worker bees noticed this happening and decided to get in there and murder her. Selfishly defying nature, I gently pushed away the worker bees so I could watch the queen. She climbed down the frame, where I’m sure the murder was completed. This hive has a whole lot going on that is all wrong. There are spotty worker cell frames in places where they shouldn’t be. There are several queen cups all over the place. I might downsize them to a nuc box if they don’t get it together soon.

 

Here is our precious hive split, now in 2 nuc boxes. Hive #3

IMG_0285While hive #1 couldn’t stop swarming, we decided to try hive splitting. We took one of the many frames with a capped queen cell, a few frames of worker bees, and some empty frames, and threw them in one of these boxes. We were pretty sure this was going to be a failure, but figured it couldn’t hurt to try. You may not be able to tell from the photo, but these boxes can only fit 5 frames, where our other hives fit 8. They are really working hard to fill up the second box. I plan to leave them alone until I treat them for mites.

 

Here is hive #4, our bees from swarm #2.

IMG_0286Ignore the crooked hive cover. These girls were mad at me for messing with them. Dan was stung twice, and I was stung once. I figured I best adjust that cover once they calm down. These are the bees who swarmed between 2 fences back in May. They appear to be doing really well right now. I do not expect to be taking any honey from them this year, but hopefully they will make it through the winter and be awesome for us next season.

 

Lastly, hive #5. Our sweet Carniolan bees who have never swarmed on us, and the lovely Queen Ruth.

IMG_0288This is what we call success. I harvested a ton of wax from them, and gladly saw that our first honey super is 90% finished with capped honey. They are working hard on the second one.

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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Not a lazy Sunday for these ladies

fullsizeoutput_a3fThe weather is beautiful, and I had all intentions of doing a spring inspection of our sole surviving hive today, but I pushed it off until it was too late in the day. They are still flying in and out and gathering pollen at 6:30pm, but it is best not to disturb them after 5. This is advice I was given through books, various speakers, and tested with my own stubborn experience. They just want to be left alone after a hard day’s work.

Aren’t they cute?

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