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The bees of Brigid beard heavily across the front of the hiveIn all hives there is a inexplicable lack of evidence for varroa. I've build each hive with screened bottom boards that are either wide open or have a simple drawer for capturing hive junk. Granted the season is still young and varroa really don't start getting bad until later in the summer but with prior packages I'd still find at just about every stage of the season some evidence of varroa (usually the actual mites, themselves) even though I had no idea what I was seeing at the time. On Lada I've installed a diy sticky board that's covered in (vegetable oil) wax scale, ants, pollen gobs, flecks of flotsam that would require a microscope to identify but not a single mite. The only possible exception was a dead bee I found on the porch of Brigid, there were no mites on her although she was tiny but otherwise not deformed; and a bee from Isis that was suffering from a shrunken abdomen (something I've seen prevalently in the dead-outs) that I've come to associate with the virus transmitted by varroa, as if being a blood sucking fiend isn't bad enough by itself. They're not completely pest-free, though. A couple of weeks ago when I removed the baggy feeders from under the quilts I did see a single small hive beetle in each of Lada and Brigid (the Front Royal hives) but nothing of the sort in Isis (Annandale, where there're just ants). Here's hoping that those were isolated individuals imported with the packages and not something that's gained a foothold. A small hive beetle infestation is a nasty mess, much like a corpse full of maggots. But that's actually part of my top secret agenda in keeping bees, maintaining a bee population that eventually comes into balance with their pests. The first couple of years I let them do what it is they do. This means if Brigid wants to swarm then they'll swarm. If I can recover the swarm so much the better but the idea is to observe what feral bees do in natural settings.

From a lecture by Mike Palmer in Centreville a couple months ago and again at the screening of Queen of the Sun I've made contact with the Prince William Beekeepers Association, particularly Karla Eisner and her ongoing efforts at queen rearing and over wintering nucleus colonies. Fascinating stuff here! And I think this work is absolutely imperative. She's invited me to come out and look over her shoulder at some point soon when she plans on setting up the nucs for next year. In perusing her report I've wittled my own efforts down to a single purpose that wasn't exactly clear when I started in the very early, cold and dark days of the year, and this is to:
Keep a few colonies of bees under as close to feral conditions as possible with minimal intervention or human interference and with the intention of bringing a (packaged) colony with, perhaps, a less than an ideal genetic basis through the average mid-atlantic winter season.
The packages being the majority of my expenses, this model fits my diminutive budget and to attempt raising queens in the manner described by Karla would've been economically infeasible for me this year. That said, the majority of my bees are in wooden skeps and I'm unable to even inspect the hives, much less harvest eggs and royal jelly that are required in her work. Even if I knew how to rear my own queens I have yet to see one of my colonies prove worthy to be increased. This may well be due to the fact that these colonies were all started with packages to begin with.

It makes perfect sense that inferior genetics from mass produced and artificially inseminated mothers would have a hand in the the silence of bees, and that locally adapted and naturally bred mothers would have an obvious advantage. But it's kinda like that episode of M*A*S*H where Hawkeye and Honeycut patch up the injured soldiers just to send them back into battle being which for the bees are mono-cropping, pesticides, and genetic pollution (GMOs). However, over-wintering nucs and breeding local genetics is really the only aspect of the decline where we can exercise some control.

Chuck and I talked about the possibility of he and I overwintering a couple nucs this year and came to the conclusion that this was also imperative. He agreed to donate the eggs and the frames of nurse bees. I'd make some yogurt and prepare a couple of modified 10 frames deeps to cobble together some duplex nucs. I think the only other things we need are the queen specific stuff, grafting tools, cups, funky queen frame and to work out a schedule. Like brewing some of the this stuff needs to be done at specific intervals. We have about two weeks to get things together before we need to make a serious attempt at harvesting some eggs. In the mean time the "managed feral" model colonies here will have serve as the control until the they express the traits desirable for increasing and not just a knack for dying on Christmas.


Aug. 22nd, 2009 12:41 pm
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[personal profile] doodlemaier
Small hive beetles

Since last week I've been discovering small hive beetles in my top feeder. First one, now three. What next? These eat brood, wax and honey, in addition to shitting in honey causing it ferment and ooze out of the cells. How do they get in to a hive? A small hive beetle trap should keep populations of these things in check but an infestation may require medication with coumaphos, sold under the band CheckMite+. They seem to be more prevalent in southern states. Yay! The South.

Tracheal Mites

Here's a recipe for grease sugar patties that inhibit the growth of tracheal mites:

• 1½ lbs of solid vegetable shortening (such as Crisco™)
• 4 lbs granulated sugar
• ½ lb honey
• Optional: add ⅓ cup of mineral salt sold at Southern States or farm supply store.
• Also a 1½ oz shot of wintergreen oil may be added for patties that are not to be used while honey supers in use.

Mix all ingredients together until smooth and form into a dozen or so hamburger-size patties. Keep frozen until ready for use.

Varroa Mites

Sugar shake test: Prepare a wide mouth pint canning jar by removing the lid and adding a tablespoon of confectioners sugar. Replace lid with a small piece of screen keeping the metal tightening ring handy. Using a makeshift paper funnel inserted into the mouth of the open jar shake about a ½ cup of sample bees from a couple frames from the brood nest into the jar, tighten the lid over the screen. Away from the hive vigorously shake the sugar, along with the mite sample, onto a piece of clean white paper. Use the count to determine the level of infestation (<12 mites per 200-300 bees requires immediate action.) Dowda method is a treatment to control the mite population.

The Dowda Method: Give the bees on each frame a light dusting of confectioners sugar, through a sifter or an adapted baby powder bottle. Sprinkle a rather heavier dusting on the top bars of the brood box which will allow the bees to sprinkle themselves as they move about in the hive. The dusting of sugar triggers grooming behavior which causes the mites to fall off. A screened bottom board prevents the mites from climbing back into the brood nest, although there is some speculation that mites are unable to climb back into the nest on their own. Repeat this process once a week, using a sticky board beneath the screen to hold mites for counting and determining that the mites infestations is dropping to an "acceptable" level (<12 mites per 200-300 bees.)


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