Wednesday, March 29, 2017

First Spring Hive Check

Temperatures, our spring break trip, rain, you name it... it's all added up to a lot of time between my last hive check and now.

On Sunday we got a major hail storm, and last night it rained (with more hail, though much smaller in size), so I wasn't feeling very optimistic about getting out there again soon... but then the clouds parted and the sun shone down on my bee yard, and I knew the time was now!

My strategy for this hive check was to move from South Hive up to North Hive (saving the hive I believed to be the strongest- and hottest- for last), and I didn't smoke them in the beginning because I was afraid their food stores might be getting light.

South Hive:

When I lifted the outer lid, bees were bursting through the opening of the inner lid. Their population is positively exploding right now, and although I didn't lay eyes on the queen I found lots of brood of all sizes along with a beautiful spectrum of pollen and lots of stored nectar.

I had to dig down into the bottom deep to find brood, though, and in the process I broke up a lot of burr comb. They did NOT like that, so I had to eventually light the smoker (though after seeing how well they were doing I felt OK about lighting it up). I came back later and added a queen excluder and another super, because every frame was drawn out and almost filled with either nectar, honey, pollen, or brood, and I don't want them to start feeling cramped and swarm away!

Middle Hive:

My single-deep cutout hive (aka Middle Hive) is not doing as well as it's neighbors. It seems they lost their queen over the winter for some reason. I found a lowered population with lots of stored honey, nectar, and pollen, but no brood at all save for a handful of bulbous drone brood.

I did, however, find a queen cell (that I almost obliterated lifting the frame out of the box!!) so at least the girls realized they were in trouble and were able to take steps to save themselves before it was too late. I'm going to keep an eye on them and let them do their thing... for now.

North Hive:

By the time I got to North Hive (which was by far my strongest hive last year), I had the smoker going, which I definitely needed because I found them to be just as strong as South Hive. However they had significantly diminished food stores, so I'll be feeding them for the next week or so- especially if we keep getting rain!

I mean, look at all that brood! Way to go, girls! And as I was closing up the last hive, Her Highness herself made an appearance, and actually climbed up onto my finger before descending back into the darkness and safety of her hive.

Overall I feel pretty good about the status of things on this side of winter, however one shadow fell on my hive vibes:

I totally found a varroa mite on one of the drone larvae that fell out of all that burr comb I was cutting out of South Hive. I peeled every larvae out of that burr comb and inspected it, and only found the one mite (out of 20-25 larvae), which you could kinda guesstimate would make that hive's infestation about 4-5% (which I know I know isn't a tried-and-true measure, but it's not totally off base).

I haven't treated for varroa at all, and I kinda don't want to... I heard a speaker in one of my bee meetings talk about allowing nature to take her course, and leave the strongest bees standing when it comes to varroa mites (makes sense to me). He argued that when varroa first hit American bee yards in the early '80s and started wiping entire colonies out, people freaked (understandably so) and started intervening, which stopped the bees from being forced to adapt to the new threat, but which also forced the mites to adapt to the methods of human intervention. He also argued that all chemical interventions to date have now done more harm than good, because it arrested bees in their progress of adapting to the threat, but it boosted the mites into "super mite" status because it was the mites forced to adapt to the poisons, instead of the bees forced to adapt to the mites.

He concluded by stating he believed if people would just get out of the way, the bees would find a way to deal with the mites on their own. His case was made (for me) by his own bee yard- over 25 hives that haven't been treated for varroa in over 12 years.

Although I found a mite on a drone larvae, I'm not freaking out yet- by all other accounts my bees seem strong and healthy, and I like the idea of aiding the adaptation of the honeybee instead of the adaptation of varroa destructor.

So I intervene by feeding, adding space, and relieving them of some of their honey at opportune moments... and then I let them do their thing.

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