BAD BLOGGER, BAD BAD BLOGGER

Obviously I’m a lousy blogger.  No updates all summer, or fall for that matter!

I recently received an email from a friend in Indiana that is distressing.  He has had much less time to keep bees due to his job, but has had several set-backs in beekeeping and is getting discouraged.  This causes me to reflect on my own struggles this year, and the much research that I have done with regard to beekeeping, and its many challenges, and my desire to continue improving Warmbees In-Hive Warmers, and providing them as a product.

First, I will update with the outcomes of last winters tiny colonies.  The smallest colony did not make it past the 2nd week in April.  In spite of the queen laying eggs, and hanging in there, the workers never nursed them, and so there were no new bees to continue.  This actually seemed to be the similar challenge for my second slightly bigger colony, however I received my 2 new packages in about the 3rd week in April, which allowed me to take a few hundred bees and combine them with the small remaining colony.  This was the shot in the arm needed, and they began nursing the eggs and the little colony took off and thrived.  This second colony is now nearly a deep and 1/2 now this winter!  I’m not sure what to fully take away from last year.  Scientifically, the sample is simply too small to really be of any real significance, but it was a success in the fact that I was able to get two tiny colonies through the winter into the second week of April with Warmbees In-Hive WArmers!  I count both colonies as a success to that end, with the second colony still alive and thriving.

My thoughts go to observing that there is a critical mass element here that suggests that a baseball size colony (approximately 1/2 frame), is simply too small and does not contain enough bees to survive the winter, even if temperature is removed as the reason.  But at the same time, the softball size colony did make it all the way through, but required an injection of bees in April to begin to thrive again.  Without many more samples, I can’t draw any strong conclusions except that it is possible to get critically small colonies through winter, given the right conditions!  I am tempted to say that once bees are older, they really don’t want to revert to nurse bee duties.  If this is the case, then without some occasional brood through the winter, ramping up in the spring, is very difficult.

This year brought more observations and challenges.  With my two new packages, one absolutely thrived and exceeded my expectations and even gave me about a gallon of honey.  The second failed to thrive, probably due to EFB, and in spite of my best efforts never really realized its potential.  I created several queens and NUCs, and successfully mated 5 early on, but later they all seemed to disappear in about a weeks time.  I created additional queens and even succeeded in getting two mated in October, which I was then able to use to get two other colonies queen right before winter.

My brother had purchased a VSH breeder queen and she thrived during this year, and we created some second generation queens from her.  However late in the season, apparently someone in his neighborhood must have sprayed some poison, which came back to his apiary and nearly killed everything off (thousands dead on the ground)!  I attempted to rescue his VSH queen and her offspring by bringing them up to my apiary and in fact nursed them in an inside observation hive, but eventually lost them both.  However during the process, (I’m really saving you the very long story here) I learned that my strongest hive was totally saturated with Varoa mites, and was beginning to decline.  I then researched into Varoa and methods of eradication.  I tried many things like powdered sugar, and even vinegar, but finally settled on Oxalic Vapor.  This worked extremely well!  I was able to kill off the mites in my strong hive, and it entered this winter with a deep and 1/2 box of bees!  Through the research I did, and my own experiences this year, I’m finding and echoing the conclusion, that Varoa are probably responsible for more issues than we may have previously thought.  Actually, it is my opinion that there is a bit of a Trifecta going on that results in very high losses!

I may have mentioned some of my fight with Yellow Jackets here.  At the end of last season, I nearly lost all of my colonies, and I truly believed that it was all due to Yellow Jacket predation.  I spoke with two county agents and our Utah State entomologist about this observation, and they said that Yellow Jackets are opportunists and that there were other main causes.  I tried to keep an open mind, but then absolutely studied and paid attention to everything YELLOW JACKET this year!  I fought major battles this year with Varoa mites, and some EFB, and feel strongly that while these may be primary causes, or perhaps better stated as initiating conditions or impetus, once Yellow Jackets identify the opportunity and “Hives as a Food Source”, they develop their skills and have the disposition to attack with extreme aggression, and then become a force that can totally take out an entire small apiary!  I absolutely believe that there comes a turning point where they are no longer just opportunists, but become the primary threat!  Once the Genie is out of the bottle, you can’t stuff it back in!

The Big Picture then becomes:  Disease, mites, wasps, moths, beetles, and etc. reduce the level of thriving for honeybees in North America, and then the lack of adequate preparation for cold Northern winters, takes them out, resulting in high losses.  The Varoa mites may not have seemed like a terribly significant threat and can be managed, but I believe it is the scale-tipping straw that is changing the balance for a species that has here-to-fore largely thrived in North America.  With increasing percentages of losses throughout the Northern climates, many hobbyists and beekeepers alike, are becoming discouraged, and increasingly un-willing to continue losing investments in beekeeping and equipment.

As a professional trouble shooter and consultant by trade, with an engineering degree in electronics, one of the most challenging scenarios to resolve is where multiple causes appear to act like one large smoking gun.  An enormous amount of effort and expense is often spent looking for the “smoking gun” singular cause, when in fact it is the result of many smaller seemingly insignificant issues that add up to the big problem!  Anyone that has ever used a checkbook understands that 100 tiny checks adds up in a hurry to a big problem!

Applying this analogy to beekeeping trends, and my observations of this year,  the Trifecta becomes more obvious!  Apis Meliffera, which is not indigenous to North America, and which has largely been able to adapt to the colder climates and thrive here, may have been dealt the crushing blow with the introduction of the Varoa Mite.  While the Varoa Mite may not be the big smoking gun, in and of itself, if it introduced a factor of just 10% of an irritant or thorn factor to the honeybee population, causing them to struggle just that much more than normal, across the continental US, and then the Yellow Jackets and other pests and detrimental issues to honeybees gain that same 10%, or more, cumulative increase in their success against honeybees, the scale may have been tipped too far in the negative direction for honeybees to continue to thrive overall, and the decline will be exponential!  I don’t believe that the effect of Varoa is just 10%, nor the gains, at least by the Yellow Jackets, is just 10%.  If not for my huge efforts against disease, Varoa, and Yellow Jackets these past two years, I would have no bees, and would have lost absolutely 100% of every new package I’ve purchased!  Beekeepers who want to take a hands-off approach to beekeeping, take note.  Just my Humble Opinion.  But hey its my blog!

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