I AM MORE OF A BELIEVER
A Statement from Jerry’s Personal Education Reinforcement
You most likely have heard of the term “Varroa Bomb” as coined by Dr. Dennis vanEngelsdorp. Because of varroa mites, honey bees cannot live and establish long-term colonies in the wild and survive. Honey bees are more like your pet dog or cat or other livestock now and they require management to survive, prosper and reproduce. Without active beekeeper management, varroa mites and the varroa/virus complex will weaken and kill an untreated colony in 12 to 18 months.
You would not choose to not treat your dog or cat for rabies, or fleas, or ticks, or distemper. Farmers would not choose to not treat their cows or chickens or horses or any other animal for those pests, parasites, and diseases that would sicken and kill them.
But, as you know there are some beekeepers, who for some reason choose not to sample and survey for varroa and then treat them appropriately. Their bees die every year and the beekeeper blames something or someone else. These beekeepers, who choose not to sample, treat, and then sample again to see if the treatment actually works, create “Varroa Bombs.”
A Varroa Bomb is a colony of honey bees, where varroa is taking over as they use the honey bee colony to reproduce. The colony gets weaker and weaker and acts as a reservoir for varroa as it slowly dies. As it slowly dies, other honey bee colonies see this as an opportunity to steal whatever honey might be left in the colony. They get in easily as the colony can’t defend itself anymore.
Varroa isn’t stupid; they know the colony is failing, their population is rising and they need to get out and go find another colony, so they can use them to reproduce and make more varroa. So they jump on these “robber” bees and ride back to colonies in a mile or more radius. Poof, they have survived and spread.
I had no problem believing this, but I had a recent educational outreach experience in real time. I keep about 20 colonies on my few acres in the country. The past 3 years there was a beekeeper about 1/2 mile away with 200 colonies. I am very conscientious in sampling/surveying for varroa, treating, and then sample surveying again to see if the treatment worked to lower varroa counts to the 3 mites per hundred bees or less. I prefer less.
The last three years I had some mite levels in the 5-6-7 range consistently. I treated of course and have had no winter losses.
This spring the 200 colonies did not come back. I have sampled my colonies a few times and I have found only 2 mites TOTAL so far in 20 colonies. The varroa reservoirs are gone and with it a lot of the varroa pressure on my colonies. Real life drama.
All that to say, if you know of beekeepers, who brag that they don’t treat for varroa and their colonies still die from some made up reason, they are like a dog whose owner did not take it to the vet to get the rabies vaccine and are now ready to infect every dog, raccoon, possum, and person with it. They are a rabies reservoir.
We as beekeepers need to be better, smarter, conscientious honey bee managers. If not, the bees get weak and die and infect other honey bee colonies of other beekeepers. Simple as that.
Q BEES IN A TREE NOW IN THE HOUSE
Yesterday we took down a 20’ hemlock stump that a swarm had taken up in as a nest. Every year this happens and the swarm dies, so I determined to try to save this one. The tree trunk came down and split apart on impact. There were thousands of bees, so many larvae, and on close observation, I saw no mites even on drones…and they were pretty calm, considering their home was just destroyed.
After they settled down, we gathered a bunch in buckets and by shaking a big chunk with a huge cluster of bees into a trash bag. We put them in my small (6’X6’) dust free room, with a super of frames that I had tied their comb into, and a super of drawn comb for hominess. Some went into that setup, but huge clusters settled in the upper corners of the window, which I thought was shut. This afternoon I saw that they were getting out! Not a lot, but still. So I taped a black plastic bag over the window, so they wouldn’t be drawn to the light. Then I realized they were not going back to the hemlock (50’ away and around a corner), but hanging around the window. So maybe they are foragers and trying to bring nectar and pollen back to the nest in the dust free room?
To make things worse, in two days I must leave for 10 days. Do you think I could sustain the bees with feeders of sugar water? Or should I let them get out, maybe abscond? I have no idea if the queen made it (I so hope so, what a great queen!) Will the foragers orient to the queen and not the hemlock? I had hoped to move them 3 miles away for two weeks and then bring them back, but they are not all going into the supers yet, if ever. I really don’t want to consign the dust free room to be a beehive.
Good morning Spirit,
Lol, every beekeeper needs to do this at least once. And you know why they die every year too, right? Unmanaged varroa, just like the hives of beekeepers, who decide to not treat. Without treatment, the bees typically die annually, just like the bees in your hemlock cavity.
Knowing if the queen is alive and where she’s located would be a huge advantage in making some decisions. I was going to suggest you take a queen excluder and a couple empty hive bodies into which you can shake the bees. The workers will go through the excluder and the queen can’t. But, it sounds like bee chaos now, so that would be tough to do.
The forager bees in the room want to get out and go home. The other workers are attracted to the light. Why don’t you simply put the bees/hive back in the same location as the old hemlock tree? That is the location of their home. You’ll get all the bees and if the queen is in the group, you’ll see eggs in the hive soon. If not, you’ll know when you check on the colony when you come back from your trip.
I think what you need to do now is stabilize the colony, know if they have a queen or not and then make any moving decisions. It would be a lot better to try to keep them alive than what you have now.
You always ask about the mite count when questions come in. While this information is important and has resulted in the hives being treated, the real issue is the ongoing struggles and concerns faced by backyard beekeepers in general, not just in my case alone.
I have been a beekeeper for over 33 years. With the exception of the first few years, much of the time, effort and money I have expended have gone toward combating varroa mites and the diseases they vector. Over the years I have tried every means and combination of means from IPM to acaricides, and still lose 30 to 50 percent of my hives. I haven’t produced any surplus honey in years, because I must split my hives in order to partially make up for loses suffered, and let’s not forget the ongoing cost of replacement queens and nucs.
Monetary costs aside, I am more and more convinced that I might as well be attempting to empty the ocean with a bucket. I have become less and less a beekeeper and more and more a mite keeper. It seems to me the bees have become secondary, present only to meet the needs of the mites – livestock raised for mite consumption. Perhaps American Bee Journal and Bee Culture should change their names to American Mite Journal and Mite Culture respectively, reflecting the emphasis, and rightfully so, that they must place on mite related issues and products.
Thank you for allowing me to rant. I’ll stop now, so I can order some more acaricide. Perhaps one of the supply catalogs will also have one of those t-shirts that used to say “Bee Whisperer” and now more realistically reads “Mite Whisperer.”
Hal in Connecticut
I think short rants are good. Shows you have a passion for what you are….