Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Managing Pests (I wish this worked on people)

Bee Colony Collapse Disorder: New Bait Lures Varroa Mite To Its Doom

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Colony Collapse Disorder is a huge concern in the world of beekeepers, farmers - and anyone who likes to eat. One third of our food crops are pollinated by, and thus dependent on, pollinators - honeybees included. All pollinators are declining in number, due to a host of things that people are doing (I could go into this at length but let's save this for a day when i am really cranky).

Honey bees in the past five years have begun to just vanish - something called Colony Collapse Disorder. The whole hive just disappears, no bodies on the ground, just all gone. And the experts are not sure why (though US EPA has recently (finally!) followed the EU in fingering pesticides as a big part of the problem).

Bees are stressed by chemicals used in agriculture, in home gardens, and in beekeeping itself. A common bane in the hive is the varroa mite - a nasty little flea-like thing that attaches itself to bees and their larvae and paracitizes them. Using miticides in hives to eliminate the mites contaminates the honey and is unhealthy for bees. It also builds up in beeswax such that now the commercially available beekeeping equipment, i.e. foundation, often contains traces of miticides. So even if you are trying to be an organic beekeeper the chemicals are present. I hate this.

There are efforts underway to manage mites using Integrated Pest Management approaches. One thing everyone around here does is use a screened bottom board so when the mites fall off the bees they fall down out of the hive and can't climb back in.

Thyme essential oil is known to repel the mites and there are other other plant-based techniques. Sprinkling frames with powered sugar causes the bees to groom extra hard and pull off mites. I haven't done any of these things yet, but these and the trap discussed in the attached article are good to know about.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Bees out West

Hello - just back from 2 weeks vacation on the West coast - on the Kitsap Peninsula (WA) and the San Francisco Bay area. Am experiencing that horrible "first day back to work" feeling- yoiks.

While out there I visited a bee yard in Indianola, WA. My husband and I happened to be walking by when the beekeeper was opening his hives - great timing!  Got to watch and ask questions.  Big take-away was that the drought out there is affecting the bees. Normally at this time (blackberry flowering) the bees would be socking away nectar and making lots of honey. But the two hives we looked into were bone dry - lots of pollen, but little brood and no nectar, no honey stores. Bad.

The beekeeper I talked to said he thought he'd have to supplement - feed them sugar water, something he's never had to do before at this time of year. Yoiks.

Also saw an unusual thing - at another bee yard the hives had entrance holes drilled into the hive boxes  - about 2" in diameter holes drilled into all the handle slots which faced front. Now why is that?  Better circulation?  The hive boxes also lay flat - no bottom board - on the stands. Against mice maybe?  No one was around to ask.

Isn't it great how bees allow one to walk up to a complete stranger and ask probing questions? I  love that.

I will ask about the drilled holes at my next central VA. beekeeper association meeting. We just got our new T-shirts with logos and everything. Cool.

Haven't checked my bees since getting home 2 nights ago- am anxious to see what's going on. From the outside looks pretty busy.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Her Boadiceous Majesty Elizabeth II

We have a new queen!! One of the four queen cells in Elizabeth's hive that the girls raised hatched into a kick-ass new queenlet who knocked out her rivals and is now happily making babies! I looked for her (as noted a few weeks ago) and couldn't find her - but last Saturday there was lots of new capped and uncapped brood, so she's in business. I am so relieved.

For the sake of lineal clarity (I am making up all kinds of words today), we are keeping the names of each queen consistent (Elizabeth and Kathryn) but adding qualifiers (like I and II which are boring but useful) and in this case: Boadicea, becoz my girl had to battle 4 rivals in a truly bodacious fashion). Get it?

However (she said ominously), in neighboring Kathryn's hive I found two swarm cells! ARRGH! Kathryn has been powering along, raised a ton of brood, and packing away a lot of honey. I have 5 hive bodies on now which is a towering inferno of bees; my chin is level with the top box when I take off the roof.

So as I said, I checked everyone the day before leaving on vacation and there they were: swarm cells. darnitdarnitdarnit. I scraped off one and then stopped and thought: what the heck? So they swarm. This is a powerful hive, there is a lot of brood waiting and honey stored up, let them go. My efforts last time didn't do anything but make me queenless for a while, so ok then: build up the neighborhood bee population.

If I hadn't been leaving for vacation I would have pulled out the frames with queen cells on them and out them in their own hive box and started a new hive....just for fun. Next time.

When I get home I expect a quieter beeyard which will be a little sad but: go Kathryn !