Bee on Guard Throughout the Fall for Healthy Hives

Reader Contribution by Tia Douglass
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Well, I lost another hive! It comes as no surprise since I’ve been watching it with some trepidation. But let’s start at the beginning.

I was in the hive on August 18 and although it was a small colony, it was doing well — no worrisome signs of disease or pests (varroa and SHB well under control), good humor, a queen, eggs, larva, capped brood and — although less than I would like —ample foodstores. I removed one box so the girls could better defend their home, leaving them with one deep and one medium.

In the days after, I noticed uneven activity at the entrance: One day there would be only one or two foragers a minute; the next the entire front of the hive was bearded! I was flummoxed, but never seemed to find the time or have good enough weather to check them again. . .until yesterday (Labor Day).

The colony was gone and the hive was decimated by wax moths! Nothing was left in that hive — no brood, no food, and no dead bees! Twenty-twenty hindsight made me realize that due to the worsening conditions in the hive, the girls had probably absconded. And that the off-and-on activity at the entrance was most likely due to the colony trying to convince the queen that it was time to go!

So, I was left with one less hive and hours of work, cleaning up the mess left behind. I cut out and disposed of all the comb and scraped and washed the woodenware, and left it in the sun to dry. The only ones who benefited from this disaster were my chickens who happily helped me dispatch the wax worms!

The ability of wax moths to mess up a hive in a very short time continues to amaze me. Yes, they were left to do their dirty work for nineteen days, but such destruction in that amount of time still astounds! I have to listen to my own advice: This is the time of year that the bee population starts to decrease while populations of varroa and wax moth increase.

I warn my students to check in on their girls about every two weeks starting in September and up until the cold weather takes hold: Simple peeks between the boxes and mite drop counts go a long way to a healthy hive. Maybe if I’d gone in a week earlier I could have obviated this bad situation. But there’s always something that takes priority so two weeks stretches to three — and then there’s a problem.

So, therein lies the moral of “Do as I say; not as I do.” Check your hives every two weeks. It doesn’t take long — a knock on the box to see if they say hello; a peek between the boxes to see that all’s clean and the girls are active; a peek beneath the hive for suspicious detritus; and the mite drop count. If you catch it early, you can prevent disaster. And if the girls aren’t handling the situation, do a paper combine. You can always split again in the spring. Like our bee inspector says, “Take your losses in the fall.”

‘Nuf said.

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