Beekeeping Blues

Well, we lost another hive. It’s a situation I’m becoming all too familiar with. After increasing to eight hives two years ago, we’re now down to three. We lost several hives last winter, one this summer, and one last week. I’m learning a  good hive can fail fast.

The pitiful remains of a tiny cluster of bees that froze to death

We had a  drought this summer, and that was  rough on the bees. No rain equals no nectar equals no honey. Despite feeding sugar syrup, the bees never seemed to build up a large population. I’m sure varroa mites probably played a part. So far, I’ve taken the “head in the sand” approach to varroa, hoping that the tiny mites weren’t there or that our bees, which we caught from swarms, were somehow more resistant than normal bees. But, in my gut,  I know varroa is there and playing a part. We had a booming hive last spring that collapsed this summer. That’s a classic varroa sign. And to make matters worst, we not only lost all the bees, but we also lost their comb because wax moths (another pest) destroyed it. A lot of people have had success with the treatment-free approach for varroa, but obviously I’m not doing something right. This year I’m going to monitor mite levels and treat if need be with essentials oils, like thymol, and natural acids, like oxalic acid.

Overall, I just need to do a better job taking care of the bees, from feeding them (sugar and pollen) in times of dearth, to monitoring mite levels, and checking for queen productivity. Natalie is helping me now; she has her own bee suit. Having a second pair of hands while checking hives has made things a lot easier. If the three remaining hives make it, I’m going to try my hand at grafting and raising queens to increase our number of hives again.

It’s disappointing to lose another hive, but hopefully we can learn from it and become better beekeepers. I know it’s no fun to keep losing bees.

3 thoughts on “Beekeeping Blues

  1. When I was young my Great Grandfather taught me how to “nurse bees”. The universal bee medicine is 100% pure mint essential oil. Either peppermint or spearmint work equally well. Use not more than 1% concentration by volume or weight in sugar syrup, granulated sugar, or hard candy. Peppermint Christmas candy works well (provided it is 100% natural). Just lay the candy on top of the frames or inside the hive on the bee board. Alternatively, use 1 minim = 1 drop of pure mint essential oil on a sugar cube. Mint oil will cure both bacterial and mite infestations in bee hives. To control mites, you can also re-queen your hive with a variety of bee that has superior grooming habits. We use Carinthian bees. They are somewhat smaller than traditional Italian honeybees but they groom each other and so kill any mites that get into the hive. Italian honeybees do not have this important survival skill; they never “learned” how to groom each other. Another way to control mites is to use a dilute solution of “formic acid”. (In the old days we just boiled ants in water). Soak a cloth or paper towel in formic acid solution then lay across the hive’s landing board. This forces all bees to walk through the sanitizing solution. Formic acid kills mites and other parasites quickly. (This follows the natural process of “anting” = where birds pick up ants and rub them through their feathers. The annoyed ants secrete formic acid, a defensive chemical that kills lice, fleas, mites, and other insect pests). Note: If you want to raise bees then you need to plant (and water) flowers. Don’t rely entirely on natural blossoms to keep your bees. Consult any bee keeping text for lists of good bee forage. At least, plant common lawn clover = Dutch White Clover = Trifolium repens. Healthy hives start with good flowers.

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