I sit here in my nice dry office, watching the rain fall from Hurricane Irma. I have secured my hives so that the wind and rain will not hurt them. The bees are inside the hive today but would much rather be out foraging.
I ponder all that I have learned so far this past year about my honey bees and all of the other pollinators that visit my flower beds. I have soaked up information like the dry land soaks up the rain that is falling right now.
I have learned from my own Honey Bees and I have learned from others that are also beekeepers. I have read books, listened to podcasts, visited other apiaries and talked to other beekeepers. I have walked my land and the land around me to see new plants and discovered how they have spread over the acres. I have thrown out seeds on those lands to increase the amount of forage available to the bees.
There is not a day that goes by that I do not ponder about my bees and the bees of others. I so want to know the answers to the issues that are causing our bee populations to struggle.
What I Am Learning
What I am learning is...to listen to the bees.
Listen to them!!!! When I hear of a hive that is struggling, I think about the issues. High mite counts, low population of bees in the hive, failing Queens, failing hives, contaminated wax, taking too much honey...and the list goes on.
The bees are trying to tell us something. They are trying to tell us that we as humans do not understand how the honey bees live. We do not understand that all the manipulation of the hives that makes it easier for the beekeeper, might be hurting the honey bee.
That taking the honey at the wrong time might kill the hive that we say that we love so much. That all the chemicals that end up in the hive can kill the honey bee that we say we love so much.
After 8 years of beekeeping, I have learned more this past year that will actually help the honey bee, than I have learned in the previous 7 years.
Beekeeping has become very complicated!! It seems that every year, something else is added to the mix to make beekeeping more and more complicated.
There is a definite learning curve for a beekeeper. It takes time for us to learn the cycle of the bees in the hive and the forage cycle of the seasons. It takes a while to learn all the pests that can attack our bees. Some of these we have to learn the hard way!!
Once the initial learning curve is behind a beekeeper, instead of letting the bees tell us what they need, we go about to try and figure out what they need. We think they need to be fed, or treated or we start harvesting their honey. Yes, there are times that the bees may need some help from us, and there are times that we can have some of that sweet, sweet honey, but maybe.....just maybe, we need to just stop and think whether they really need anything from me! Do I really need to interfere this much??
Bees Communicate By Smell
I learned this many years ago, but this past summer I questioned myself about the importance of this smell factor in the hive. It is how ALL the bees communicate. The workers, the Queen, the drones all have specific duties to do and cannot do those task if they cannot communicate through the necessary smells present in the hive.
With smell being SO VERY IMPORTANT in a hive, what happens when we open that hive up every week or every 2 weeks? We surely disrupt that hive and the smell in that hive!
What happens when we feed the bees sugar syrup? We are introducing a whole different smell into the hive. Bees do not know what sugar syrup is. Yes it is sweet and they will eat it, but it has a whole different PH to it. Nothing like the nectar that they bring in from the flowers. Would I feed them sugar syrup if they are starving? Yes, I would, but I might try to feed them honey instead (if I have any) or maybe a "Bee Tea" recipe that I learned about this summer from a very experienced beekeeper.
What happens if I put into the hive any one of the array of chemicals that are available to a beekeeper? There are many treatments for mites and there are treatments for fungus, there are treatments for hive beetles and the list goes on. All of those treatments disrupt the smell of the hive. Even products that we think of as "Natural" can be a smell in the hive that can disrupt it.
Even some of the flowers that the bees go to for nectar and pollen can have toxins in them that can disrupt the smell in the hive.
I am not saying that we should never do any of the above mentioned things. As beekeepers, we are responsible for the well being of the hives that we own. I am only saying that man, the beekeeper, might just be interfering too much and we should always remember to ponder what is good for the bees, not the beekeeper!
Each time we interfere or introduce a new or different smell in the hive, do we know how long it takes for the bees to deal with that smell or that change and "get back to business"?? What if each of those things that we do to our hives, takes the bees one week to correct...or two weeks to correct?? That would set the hive back a week, 2 weeks or more!! What if those things stops the Queen from laying for a week?? We could be contributing to the demise of our own bees!!! I don't know if the intrusions set the bees back weeks, but even a few days that the bees are not doing their tasks is not good for the hive.
Always watch the activity of your hive(s) from the outside. Pull up a chair or just observe for a while. What are they bringing into the hive, how much activity is there at the entrance. This can always give you a good indication if there is something that needs to be checked.
I Will Continue to Ponder About My Bees......
I Will Continue to Learn From my Bees and I Will Continue to Watch & Listen.....