Tuesday, September 8, 2009

My Bees and Powdered Sugar

I'm checking the varroa mite population in each of my three hives and I'm doing it with powdered sugar. Varroa mites latch on to the bees and suck the life out of them. They weaken the hive and open the door for disease and moths and other detriments.

The test is simple: I brush 50 bees into a jar with 1 tablespoon of sugar in it, roll them around and shake out the sugar with the disgruntled mites in it. When the bees tumble out they are coated in sugar and lick each other off and fly away. I count the mites; anything more than 10 requires treatment. Beekeepers used to use insecticides at this point but that is frowned upon. I bought some formic acid pads to insert into the hive, but I am not sure they are safe. I'm reading Ross Conrad's Natural Beekeeping and following his practices. He observes his bees methodically. He looks for signs and used low-stress, low-impact ways, as in organic gardening.

Almost no mites! The hives are free of varroa mites. I'm a bit skeptical though. Maybe I didn't let the sugar stay on them long enough so that the mites would disengage. Maybe I don't know what to look for: I know what mites look like, and they are small, but a sugar-coated one?

The middle hive had other problems: empty brood cells, a sign of an absent queen or the recurrence of the hive's springtime disease that were remedied. Could the swarm that I gathered just 10 feet away just one month ago have come from this hive? If so, it lost its queen and it takes one month to produce a new one. The hive has two months to store more honey for the winter. It will be a race. If it is a disease, then the hive is really in trouble because it will have to both recover and store honey.

Hives #1 and #3 are strong.

Each time I inspect the hives a learn something, but I also face situations that are beyond my grasp. I want to take it slow and observe very carefully. The more details I can retain, the better my diagnosis. I write them down. I form hypothesis as I work, but I end with more questions. This morning I called Don Hopkins, the state bee inspector who has been at my place three times (What a guy!). He is very calm and is not alarmed by my report. Yes, he says, perhaps there is a new queen. Yes, they still have time to store winter honey. And yes I'll come over a check your hives when I return from vacation in ten days. I breath a sigh of relief.

Beekeeping requires diligence, calmness, and knowledge. And I'm just learning.

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