This is the most disastrous beekeeping year I’ve ever had. And I’ve a few bad ones.
But this is the first bad one since going natural, more than a decade ago. When things are going great it’s easy to get complacent. But in beekeeping just like the rest of agriculture, every new decade introduces a new round of problems. Get complacent. Get surprised!
Looking back, my problems didn’t start in 2010. In fact, they started four seasons ago when I put my bees inside a friend’s commercial beeyard for safe keeping. Then left Wyoming for a couple of seasons. Returning to Wyoming, I retrieved my bees. In spite of that year’s poor forage, the rampant drug resistant foulbrood, and pesticide resistant mites in my friends commercial bees, my bees had average populations, no foulbrood, and low mite counts. I thought I was in pretty good shape.
But it was a new day and I didn’t see it. More than just mites and foulbrood were trucked back from the Almonds to Wyoming!
Wish I’d left those bees with my commercial friend and started with new package bees.
The next season, my bees were in their own beeyard. It was a poor forage year. The best hives were only average. At least half of them were small and none of them were expanding. That was a unusual situation. Before my Florida sojourn, I’d always had more natural bees than equipment. So, I fed all of them and gave the stragglers a shot of kombucha which seemed to jump start them. They actually produced more honey than the hives without the kombucha.
But my bees were sick and I didn’t get it. They had no foulbrood or mite problems. And the typical mite vectored virus symptoms weren’t seen. I attributed the what I saw to the poor forage and old queen age, although I’d let them handle their own queen replacements for a decade without any trouble.
These bees were on decade old small cell comb that was used in testing out small cell hives. A comb replacement plan was in place. And it would have been implemented had the bees thrived. But they didn’t and the comb didn’t get switched out.
Wish those package bees was started on new comb.
This last season. They over wintered terribly. Only a few hives came through in average strength. The rest were weak to dinks. So, I decided to feed, yard trash them, requeen, and start over again. But, this process which would easily produce ten good double hives, was headed for failure. My bees were in big trouble. In spite of low mite counts, no crawlers, and no brood disease, they:
- barely touched either sugar or pollen feed
- failed to expand only raising enough brood to sustain populations
- failed to forage during one of the best forage years in decades
- developed strange foulbrood like symptoms by midsummer
- clustered or rather clumped away from the broodnest core
Then I saw it! Thanks to Randy Oliver and his “Sick Bees” series in the American Bee Journal.
My bees were doomed. In spite of all efforts and expense, there was nothing that could turn these bees around. They was sick for several years. And their chances for surviving through this next winter was almost nil.
They was on life support for the whole season. Should I pull the plug and let them die? I chose not to.
So, I moved them. Continued to feed them. And gave them a round of antibiotics. Yes, there is a time for treatment. For people. For children. For animals. Yes, even for bees.
After the antibiotics, they began to forage on late alfalfa. And they took some of the sugar and pollen feed. Then they got sprayed with malathion.
Wish I’d used antibiotics sooner and moved my bees to a pesticide free area.
Well, here we are starting a new season. What will the new season hold for my bees. Only time will tell.
Natural beekeeping is not a way to get immortal, trouble free bees. That’s just not natural. 🙂
But natural beekeeping provides a framework that lets the bees do what they do best. And that’s survive and thrive new challenges. When keeping bees naturally, a beekeeper can take advantage of nature’s resilience and quickly rebound from trouble.
That’s been my experience in the past. And with this new virus soup thing, that’s my hope for the new year.
I don’t know whether all my past wishing would have prevented this season’s outcome. Maybe the wild bees, which have also been decimated, were the disease vector my for bees. But I suspect it was probably the other way around. And recent research shows it possible.
It’s one thing for me to loose my bees. But it’s quite another thing for the wild bee population to perish because of my bees.
I sure wish they hadn’t. But the trail of damage is pretty clear. California almonds to my friends commercial bees. His bees to mine. Our bees to the wild ones. It speaks volumes about how we humans understand and manage things!
It makes me sick. I hope the transported RNA doesn’t persist. I hope it truly is a disappearing disease.
And there’s one last wish. May you and your bees will have the best season ever, next year. The way things go with bees, I’m sure we’ll have plenty to talk about.