Spring is here! Time to Get Busy!

Reader Contribution by Tia Douglas
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It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged. . .was disheartened by the misfortunes that struck my girls last spring, and I didn’t feel much like blogging. What kind of misfortunes you ask? Well, for the first time in 14 years, I lost ALL MY HIVES! When asking the experts why they had died, I consistently received the standard answer: varroa mites. In those 14 years, my hives never had a serious varroa problem even though they are chemical free. Of course my hives had varroa, just never beyond—or even close to—threshold level.  I’ve always been faithful with regular 48-hr mite drop counts and have never found more than 3 to 5 mites per count! My theory is that by not treating them, my girls have worked up a resistance to the virus passed by the varroa and it did seem to be working for me. . .until last spring. So I got out my microscope and biopsied. The girls had lots of problems. . .of course varroa was one, but there were also signs of paralytic virus, pesticides, etc.

After recovering from the shock and disappointment, I started from scratch with two nucs. They grew and did well throughout the summer season despite a major pesticide kill to one of the hives! On that occasion, I had gone out to the hives to find thousands of dead bees on the ground, surrounding only one hive! Classic pesticide poisoning. Went into the hive and found the nurse bees working on the brood and all was well within. When I checked the following day, the number of dead bees on the ground had not risen and the population within had not dwindled, confirming the pesticide analysis. My home and the hives are surrounded by three commercial farms, which leads me to believe that those girls flew directly into active spraying!

The remainder of the summer went well, as did early fall when mite counts were not a problem.I did not take off any honey because the honey that season was very sparse and I intended to leave it for the girls to overwinter on. Final inspection before leaving the girls to overwinter found that one hive had very little honey but a strong colony with a beautiful queen, and lots of bees and brood. The other was slam full of honey, but no brood! So I combined, giving me one huge hive made up of three deep boxes! The girls went through the very mild winter well. I kept checking on them and their stores by putting my ear on each box and rapping sharply. I was surprised and pleased to get a strong roar from each of the three boxes! Usually, the girls move up over the winter and after a while you won’t get any sound out of at least the bottom box, but these girls were plentiful.

This spring I knew it was time to split the hive. I tried to do it by myself, but deep boxes full of honey are too heavy for this old woman to lift! I did manage to take the top deep off by moving it 5 frames at a time. I confirmed the presence of brood and set that top deep up on its own stand as one split. I also gave the mother hive a medium box since I could see that the remaining two boxes were packed. That was on a Tuesday.

The following Saturday (4 days later) I called my friend Michael to help me. Not only for his ability to lift those heavy boxes, but also because I can always use a second pair of eyes on my inspections! Our inspection revealed that the girls were happy, healthy and feisty (glad my smoker was lighted)!/p>

When we opened the big hive we found that in the four days since I put on the additional box, the girls had filled that new medium with beautiful honey! We took ten deep frames of honey off for harvesting and separated the remaining two deeps. Once we had some semblance of order, we checkerboarded all three hives, rearranging the frames so that each has honey, pollen, brood and space to grow. Now it is a matter of wait and watch. With any luck all three will thrive but I’ll be keeping a close watch on them over the course of the next few weeks at which time I’m hoping I can give you all good news!.

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