Right now, more than ever, my bees are teaching me that no matter the season, the situation or trials, life goes on. Survivors find a way, together. Right before everyone's lives were upended with the COVID-19 pandemic, I opened up my first hives in late February. When I pulled off the first cover, and saw new wax peeking out from underneath the oxalic acid glycerin sheets, I knew that it was time to get that equipment ready for the spring to come.
I had to go visit my relatives in north central Florida all of a sudden, and while down there I was amazing at the magnitude of spring's blossoms. This decades-neglected azalea at my father-in-law's house was testament.
I was relieved that no matter how much our world may change, and how fragile that is, that the honey bees remain constant and always in tune with nature. Once I returned home and had that first inspection of the year, I smiled when I was rewarded a sting on my right thumb and my left pinkie. I do love getting those first stings out of the way! Those just made it worthwhile when I saw this beautiful queen, and her laying patterns coming out of winter.
I quickly gloved up and went on about my business, beginning the frame-by-frame cleanup and taking stock of the state of my hives. Now, with the world upside down right now, I am taking stock on all the things that are simply right side up, so to speak. These are the gifts we often overlook each and every day. There is no better season to realize what you've been overlooking for so long. Enjoy each day. Smell the flowers now in bloom, don't just pass them by. And bee well. Hello, 2020, nice to make your acquaintance. So far, you're not what I expected. But, life goes on.
Yesterday I welcome one of North Carolina's state apiary inspectors for T's Bees' first ever official inspection by the NC Department of Agriculture. Greg Fariss is a the inspector assigned to our county, Mecklenburg, and 14 other counties. The NCDA has 6 apiary inspectors. We are lucky to live in a state that has an active inspection program. Greg is master beekeeper with the Eastern Apicultural Society and has worked in commercial operations before. He REALLY knows his stuff! In fact, he's teaching an intermediate beekeeping course for Mecklenburg County, which I signed up for following my inspection. I learned so much in this visit and can't wait to learn more.
The morning was great. I'd been told that Greg can be quiet in the apiary. Well, he talked my ears off, and I his! I guess we were two peas in a pod. He instantly went to frames that had the queen on them 4 out of 6 times. He took note of the high mite fall from my two oxalic acid vapor treatments, and then in three hives Greg pointed out sure fire symptoms of Bee Parasitic Mite Syndrome, or BPMS, which looks an awful lot like European Foulbrood. It was only in a few of the cells on these small nucs but there nontheless. I wasn't surprised that one of my youngest nucs that had a 25% Varroa mite infestation rate also was displaying signs of BPMS. Diseases that Varroa vector through viruses and weakening the health of the bees is for real, people. I hope that in a month I'll see signs of rebounding on these three nucs. I am quite worried about their chances of surviving the winter, but time will tell.
I learned so much, including that bees will chew pupae in half if they're too large to remove from the cell and take out the sick pupae in pieces. I'd been thinking over the years these were chalkbrood pupae, but in fact I'd been looking at half-chewed pupae courtesy of BPMS. All of my bricks were down before Greg's inspection. At the end, three bricks went back up in the traditional "this hive needs attention!" sign to beekeepers. I will keep an eye on these three. Greg cautioned that all of my hives are underweight, so my mind is scrambling on how to get more food into the hive in the coming month. I then realized I hadn't been using my trusty division board feeders. Out with the quart jars, it's time to feed 2:1 heavy syrup inside the hives. I am toying with the idea of picking up a cooler or two for cheap and converting them into nucs to see how well a tiny nuc will overwinter here in Styrofoam. After all, I do love experimentation.
We also found bees underneath a divided hive that had it's bottom screened off. We didn't see the queen, one of the two Carniolan's I'd installed. I discovered the week prior that I forgot to screen off the bottom of the hive to create two separate chambers. I'd seen one of the queens and no eggs. Yesterday we saw eggs, larvae and brood, and two beautiful capped queen cells! It's certainly the wrong time of year to raise queens, but the amount of bees is so small that their time is limited at best. We didn't find the queen but wondered if she was in the group of bees clustered underneath the hive where all the bees seemed to bee. Greg gently brushed them back into the hive and I looked for the black queen but didn't see her. I've got to go back in and UN-divide this hive pronto. I do love to experiment. The question is: can a hive raise a decent mated queen this time of year? I had no intention of allowing that to happen but given the dire state of this small group of bees and my love of experimentation I will let these cells hatch out and see what happens ... unless I find that Carniolan queen waddling around in there when I put the hive back together into a single unit (possibly in a Styrofoam cooler).
Every time you think you know something the bees show you different.
All in all Greg said I was doing a very good job, told me what to work on for the immediate future and I also discovered my goal for 2016. I wasn't expecting to find next year's goal but was delighted to. I can't wait to have Greg back next year on a followup visit so he can see how T's Bees has progressed in a year. First items on my list: GET MY HIVES UP TO WEIGHT!!!
I've been busy working my buns off creating special sized nuc boxes, deeps and shallows. These suckers sit atop a single divided deep on a single hive stand and will allow me to overwinter two nucs side by side, sharing heat through the center cluster of the divided board and boxes. I also traded a division board and two nucs for two slatted racks with my pal Rod who lives just around the corner. He is super talented at taking throw-away wooden palettes and turning them into bee equipment. I have requested he build me one of his oxalic vaporizers over the winter that I can swap him for. I am thumbs-up on the bartering economy!
October is my most favorite month and time of the year. This year I have spent autumn worrying, scrambling, building, painting, fretting and worrying some more. Greg's visit reminded me of the basic actions I need to take, let me know which ones I'd been doing well and where I need to go from here. I also have spent this time of year being thankful for autumn's blossoms of goldenrod and asters. Here is a beautiful stand of asters that for a couple of weeks had the attention of many a nearby honeybee. I never get tired of seeing the fall nectar and pollen flow in action. And I never get tired of learning what it is that I do not yet know. The bees always tell you. And a friendly state apiary inspector as well.
Tom Davidson is the owner and beekeeper at T's Bees.
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