The more mites change, the more bees stay the same

In 1519, Spanish forces arrived in Mexico with weapons both seen and unseen. Between 1545 and 1550, up to 80 percent of the native Aztec population is believed to have been wiped out by disease, possibly a deadly form of salmonella.

In 1987, the varroa mite arrived in the United States with weapons both seen and unseen. In the most recent beekeeping season from 2015 to 2016, beekeepers lost an estimated 44 percent of their bees.

Coincidence? Maybe not. Some thoughts on the evolution of honey bees and varroa mites. Continue reading

Our Hives They Are a-Changin’

Aside from a single white morning this winter, we have had very little snow in Virginia. The weather is unusually warm and the bees seem to get a flying day once a week or so. I suspect the insect population will be robust this year, from small hive beetles to other assorted insects, due to our lack of cold weather. Soon the bees will start ramping up for spring, and I have been keeping an eye on the mite populations in Mars and Jupiter.

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Average mite drop per day in Mars and Jupiter. The count spiked in early December after I applied an oxalic acid dribble.

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The chem is mitier than the swarm

Bee Plate

A recent gift from my crafty neighbor in the bee yard. It shows a bee flying in front of a flower. Too cute! ©Erik Brown

My two original Langstroth hives, Mars and Jupiter, have had their ups and downs this year. Mars did well, but then had queen issues. Jupiter survived a split, a swarm that I caught, and likely another swarm that I missed. Both hives are going into winter and I have been checking mite drops on the bottom board of both hives lately.

This is their story.

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Varroa Mitey, the undefeated, inscrutable to the last

Our local bee club hosted Dr. Meghan Milbrath yesterday. It was free event open to the public and we had some 80 to 100 people show up. Dr. Milbrath spoke on the topic of “Towards Treatment Free” and I thought I would provide a brief summary.

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Dr. Milbrath at the start of her talk. © Erik Brown

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It bee better to give than to receive

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The yard on August 21, 2016. (c) Erik Brown

As my second beekeeping summer comes to a close, it is the time of year when beekeepers count the many pounds of honey collected from their hives, and answer the age-old question of how to handle the dreaded varroa mite.

This year I gathered my first honey, a grand total of nearly 6 cups worth. As another local beekeeper put it, the price per pound of that honey is pretty steep. Beekeeping equipment is not cheap, bees are not cheap, and our time is somewhat precious. All for a few jars of honey. Perhaps it is more about the love of bees and the joy of a hobby, at least for me. Continue reading

Bees of a feather swarm together

160425 Swarm 1

First swarm of the year. Really, first swarm of my life. To think I started this endeavor just over a year ago, hiving my three hives on April 19, 2015. Now the little buggers (literally!) are going off on their own. I remember when they were just a little nuc box, eager to grow into a full-sized hive. Continue reading