Clean Bees

We visited the Apiary twice this weekend. First on Saturday afternoon, to assist Simon in removing Super boxes from some of his hives for harvest. He got 3 full Supers from the 5 hives there, and then Sunday he removed another 3 Supers from his other Apiary. 6 Supers should give him 200 jars of honey this year – and there may be more to come a little later in the summer, as the bees are still collecting. I’m not yet sure how much we need to leave them with, since we’ll be feeding them in the lead up to winter, for their stores, so we’ll be replacing some of it.

Sunday evening though, we went to check out the FreeBees. And first job, before we even opened the hive, was to pull out the Verroa board and see what mite fall we’d collected since I’d put it in last week.

Varroa Mites are one of the worst threats to bees. There are two Blights that can get to them, but this can be controlled if you keep the comb clean – basically by swapping out anything more than 3 years old, so they’re always building new and what they have is less likely to contain anything. This also keeps down the levels of insecticide they might bring home from pollen runs, as that can build up in comb over time. Varroa hang on to the bees, and feed off them, and in so doing weakens them. So like an immune system disease, it’s not the mite that kills directly, but they can allow other problems in to do that job instead.

So the bottom of modern hives has a grating, so that small things falling through the hive fall out, and can’t easily get back in. And then there are runners below that, so you can slide in a sheet of white plastic, and check what’s landed on that to see how bad a problem you have.

So, I pulled out this sheet right after I’d given the hive it’s first smoking, and carefully inspected it for mites. And as it was my first time doing this for real, it was quite hard to see them – they’re a lot smaller than the pictures on-line and in books would suggest. But we did find about 10 on them, some still moving. That’s just over 1 dropped per day since the board went in, which is pretty good. 3 or more per day, and we have a problem.

Even so, it’s worth treating, and so after we’d done the inspection, we left an open pack of Apiguard on top of the Super frames, upside down. This is Thyme based, and completely safe, although you don’t want to use it until after you’ve harvested any honey you’re going to. It gets stuck to the bees, and they clean it off, which also knocks off the mites. We’ll check back next week, and move the pack, so it spreads properly. Then in two weeks we’ll add another pack, and all through we’ll keep an eye on the varroa sheet, to see how much they’re shedding.

As to inspecting the comb, they’re were some new eggs and uncapped brood in the main box, but in general they seem to have moved from all-out laying to starting to stock up for the winter. The area at the top that was before used for food is now most of the frame, with just the bottom third being used for laying. We’ve still not found our queen, but we did find what looked like a sealed supersedure cell, so it’s possible another queen is being grown. It’s too late in the year for a swarm, so we left that alone for them to sort out themselves.

The Supers had some comb built on most of the frames this week, but they didn’t appear to be storing anything there yet. Which I guess is understandable, if they’re putting so much honey into the brood frames now. So we wont be getting any harvest from the FreeBees this year, but hope Simon will be generous with his when we help produce it from his frames later this week. ;O)

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