This is turning out to be the year I experience just about everything in beekeeping.
The Good: Increase
I split four hives in April, increasing my growing apiary to nine hives. I also managed to avoid any swarming.
I merged two weak hives into one very strong hive. This merged hive was then requeened with an Italian queen from Koehnen Apiary. Her bees were like little drops of gold.
My most recent queen, raised by one of the hives rather than purchased, is laying well and the hive seems well-prepared for fall and winter. I have three very strong hives and three pretty good hives that have potential to overwinter successfully.
The Bad: Death
One of the queens I ordered from R Weaver got stuck in the candy in her cage. The candy was too soft and sticky and it was a warm and humid day when I put her cage in the hive. I was able to take a frame of eggs from my favorite hive and the new split raised their own queen from that frame.
A second-year queen was starting to slow down and the hive was preparing to replace her. I moved her and a couple of frames of bees to a nuc and the hive raised a new queen while the old queen was quite happy in her miniature hive and continues to lay eggs.
The Ugly: Vampires and Death
Things seemed to be going so well. New hives, new queens, happy bees. Then, tragedy.
My favorite hive was really slowing down and I discovered they had been hit hard by varroa mites. Little blood-sucking mites that get into the brood right before it’s capped and suck on the poor little bees until they hatch, assuming they survive. Once capped, the varroa mite hiding in the cell lays 4 eggs with will hatch 3 female and 1 male mite. They new mites reproduce while feeding on the larva, then the females attach to it and emerge with the bee when she hatches. Varroa carry a virus called Deformed Wing Virus and I saw a few bees that had it. They’ll never fly because their wings aren’t fully formed.
But it gets worse. It’s too hot to use most of the varroa treatments, so I dusted the hive with powdered sugar which gets makes them groom more and pick off the mites. But in my research on various treatments, it was suggested to temporarily remove the queen until all the brood in the hive have hatched so there’s no new brood cells. I thought it would be worth a try. But instead of fixing the problem, I accidentally killed the queen. She and all her bees were still unhappy about being dusted with sugar so when I opened the hive a second time, she was in the honey super, not where I would expect to see her, and she got crushed when I set the super aside.
I’ve noticed most of my hives that have a queen from Koehnen or a daughter of a queen from them are suffering from varroa infestation. My suspicion is one side effect of their docile nature is they aren’t as diligent about removing the mites from each other or from cells containing the mites. The hives with queens from R Weaver and BeeWeaver are less effected because those apiaries have been working to breed bees less susceptible to varroa.
The Uglier: Abandoned
One of my strong hives, the one made from two merged hives and queened with the beautiful golden queen, has absconded – flown away.
At the beginning of July this hive was doing great, lots of brood, honey, and pollen. The queen was laying very well. Over the past few days though, I’ve noticed there was less activity around the entrance. I knew it was trouble when I opened the hive. A few bees, mostly robbers, in the honey super. But in the hive body, nothing. No eggs, no larva, no capped brood, no stores. There was one capped and one uncapped queen cell and a handful of bees left to tend them, but the rest of the hive is gone. It wasn’t a swarm either, because not only is it not the right time of year, a swarm would leave brood and more bees behind to continue the hive. The purpose of a swarm is to increase. This hive was just gone. And they took everything with them.
I’m continuing to research varroa treatments. The EPA has recently approved oxalic acid to kill varroa and I’ll be trying that on my queenless hive in two weeks (when the remaining brood will hatch). Then I’ll merge them with my nuc and queen and hope to carry them through the winter. I’ll write another post with the results.
When the temperature is cool enough to treat the other hives, I’m wanted to try Api-life-var, a soft chemical treatment that is supposed to be effective, but can’t be used when the temperatures are above 90 degrees, which might not happen until the end of September, far too long to wait. I’ll have to try something else.
I’m trying not to be discouraged by the ugly and uglier experiences. I was very unhappy to kill my favorite queen, but in truth I would have had to replace her next year.