Another year in Beekeeping is almost over. It has been a pretty tough year. So many things are changing for the Beekeeper and our honey bees, yet I still promote becoming a beekeeper. But you must really want to do what is best for the bees. Not just get honey!!
We've learned some hard lessons this year. Maybe that is what I like most about beekeeping and gardening.
You never stop learning. The Bees and Mother Earth are always trying to teaching us something.
I've Changed my Tune this year...
In prior years I would have sworn that all the pesticides that are being used was the worst problem for our bees and pollinators. Don't get me wrong, I still think that all the pesticide use and chemical use is causing problems and weakening our bee and pollinators, but it is not our worst problem.
Our Worst Problem is Varroa Destructor
As a Beekeeper, I think that our worst problem is the Varroa Mite (appropriately called Varroa Destructor). It originally came from Asia. This mite attaches to the back of the bee and sucks the life blood out of the bee. It also carries diseases and viruses. The mite is becoming stronger and stronger in all apiaries. A beekeeper must treat their hives every year and now it is appearing that treatment may need to be 2 times a year.
Each time a beekeeper treats for this mite, the mite gets a little bit more resistant to the treatment. Does that ring any bells? Antibiotics for humans?!
In our apiary, we lost 3 hives this summer to Varroa mites. That may not sound like many hives, but as Hobby Beekeepers, we only have 5-6 hives.
The mite infests the hive and a lot of times is able to be seen on the backs of the bee. For every mite you see, there are many, many more that you do not. The hive gets weaker and weaker as each bee is attacked by this mite. Bees from other hives come into the weak hive and rob the food stores. The weak bees cannot fight off the robbers. Very soon the hive has no other choice but to leave their hive or die there. They might also die if they leave, but what choice do they have?
We found 3 empty hives this summer. We also found one hive with an over abundance of honey in their hive. The stronger bees had robbed out the weaker bees and left them destitute and with no other choice but to abscond. It was a heart breaking thing to see. All the bees were infested with the mites. Were some just possibly more resistant? Just a week before they all looked healthy, but the Varroa had been there all along.
We just thought we were safe because we had treated the previous fall.
Is There Something to These Resistant Bees?
Why were some of the bees stronger? They were infested like the other 3 hives that absconded. Questions are being raised that possibly some of the honey bees are becoming what is called "Hygienic" bees. They are able to, somehow, survive the mite infestation.
Donate to a University For Honey Bee Research
Much research is being done by many universities regarding the "hygienic" qualities of some honey bees. Duke University in North Carolina is one that has a very extensive program in this area, but it is facing a reduction in funds to continue this research. Do you need a cause to donate to before the end of the year? This would be a very important one to consider.
But Universities are not the only ones doing research. Individual beekeepers are beginning to do their own research in smaller apiaries. A fellow beekeeper has acquired bees (from a split) of a hive that is appearing to be a "hygienic" hive. This split was taken from a hive that had been unattended for approximately 3 years. A friend of my friend inherited a house, property and bee hives. The person that inherited the property and bee hives had no idea what to do with them, so he did nothing! Those hives were strong and vibrant over those 3 years with no help from a beekeeper. When testing the hives for Varroa, none were found. These are appearing to be what is called "hygienic" bees.
Incorporating "Hygienic" Bees in Our Apiary
We have agreed to purchase a split, in the Spring, from this hive of "hygienic" honey bees. We will incorporate it into our apiary. The one requirement in obtaining this hygienic hive, is that we promise to NOT TREAT this hive for Varroa. This hygienic stock has not been treated in over 3 years and continues to thrive. This is, hopefully, the beginning of getting out of the "rat race" of treating and treating and treating our bees. Just as over use of antibiotics creates a weakness in humans, the same is true for the continual treatment of our honey bees.
The Bees were Healthy and Vibrant before Man Interfered
Man brought the Varroa mite over from Asia to the US. Because of this, we felt it necessary to help the bees out by treating for the mite. However, the Varroa mite did not devastate hives in Asia. Why not?
It is my belief that bees and all insects and pollinators do not really need help from man, but man definitely needs the help from the bees, pollinators and other insects. We need to get back to that natural balance. The way it used to be. We need to work in a symbiotic relationship again with nature and Mother Earth. It is the only way both man and the honey bee can survive.
Let 2016 Be A Year of Learning for All
Even if you are not a Beekeeper, we all need to learn to bring back the balance in our lives and with this Earth!
There is still much to learn. We will continue in 2016 to work together with Mother Nature to keep our Honey Bees and our planet Healthy and Vigorous.
So to Leave 2015 and welcome in 2016, I share this wonderful poem with you.......
although at 73 degrees there may be "no cluster of bees"
The Bee Carol
by Carol Ann Duffy
Silently on Christmas Eve,
the turn of midnight’s key;
all the garden locked in ice --
a silver freeze --
except the winter cluster of the bees.
Flightless now and shivering,
around their Queen they cling;
every bee a gift of heat;
she will not freeze
within the winter cluster of the bees.
Bring me for my Christmas gift
a single golden jar;
let me taste the sweetness there,
but honey leave
to feed the winter cluster of the bees.
Come with me on Christmas Eve
to see the silent hive --
trembling stars cloistered above --
and then believe,
bless the winter cluster of the bees.
“The Bee Carol” by Carol Ann Duffy from The Bees. © Faber & Faber, Inc., 2011. Reprinted with permission.