Everyone has heard about how the bees are dying. This has moved a lot of us to start beekeeping and investigating our little flying agriculture on the wing. That's what they are, livestock for all intents and purposes. We have to take good care of them if we keep them. We have to encourage others to practice good gardening by not poisoning these master pollinators.
There are a couple of really bad bee parasites and one particularly ugly virus and then there are the neonicotinoid chemicals in popular insecticides. I can ask folks to not use these, I can tell them why and show them why but I can't get them off the market. Only by passing up these poisons will the poison makers get the point. There are natural ways to safeguard your lawns and gardens, just ask me how, I'll be glad to share.
One of the really bad parasites for the bees is the varroa mite. The official name of this little baddie is "Varroa Destructor" and it sure does. It lodges itself under the plates on the bees abdomen and preys upon the bee and it also lays it's eggs in the larval cells of the bees and invades the baby bees. By comparison to humans, it's the size of a dinner plate to the bee, imagine that hanging out under your skin! Ick! It's totally nasty.
We are committed to being as natural as we can with our pest management, even for our bees. We do one of the alternative treatments - we sugar our bees with powdered sugar and a sifter. This is a chore - we have to remove every single frame from the hive and sift the sugar over all the bees on one side, turn it over and repeat on the other side. This does not make the bees very happy but it does make them groom each other. This dislodges the mites - they fall through the screen bottom of the hives, can't get back into the hives and that kills them. I'm sorry that I wasn't able to take photos of this part - it took all our concentration and both of us to do it.
We have not found Varroa in our hives but this is only our first year of beekeeping. We'd rather be safer than sorry so we do this chore. It's probably the most stressful thing we've done so far. When that many bees get angry, it's quite a sight. The air is full of flying bees, the buzz is quite loud and agitated and hundreds of angry bees land on both of us. We kept our wits and slowly and methodically went about doing what had to be done.
By the time we were through, we were surrounded by more irate bees than I have ever seen before, oh My! The average have numbers over 50,000 bees and we ticked off every single one of them. I knew they would calm down eventually and they did. They all clustered around the entrance to their hive and marched back in.. somewhat angerly, I imagine.
We did Bluebell on Saturday. This hive was very strong and had nearly sixty pounds of honey in the top super. Buttercup was sugared on Sunday and while she is not as strong a hive as Bluebell, she is coming along and they are storing honey, too. We won't be harvesting any honey this year - they will need all they can store for the winter. I'll feed them sugar candy and pollen over the winter to help them out, too.
By this morning, all the bees were back in their respective hives - except for the nectar collectors.. they were all flying around the feeders in a dizzying array. "Where's breakfast, Eileen?" said the one perched on the edge of my glasses and staring at me eye to eye.
If you'd like to come watch the bees in flight, just let me know and we'll set a date to visit Windy Thistle Farm before it gets too cold for them.
Coming up on October 21 is the Soap Class here at Windy Thistle. Sign up on Facebook. Hand crafted soaps make a great holiday gift and everyone attending the class will go home with some Castile soap of their very own.