So there it is…from three hives a year ago to eight hives this year. As a third year natural beekeeper, I believe in letting my bees swarm. I like the article written by British beekeeper John Haverson that “Swarming Bees are Healthy Bees,” so I don’t destroy the queen cells or otherwise try to thwart their natural tendency to swarm.
I go against the recommendations of my local bee association which advises to kill the varroa mites. I know there are beneficial mites in the hive. According to long time beekeeper Michael Bush, who wrote “The Practical Beekeeper,” there are over 30 kinds of mites in a typical hive. If you are killing varroa mites, you are upsetting the ecology of the hive. I think we should let the bees adapt to living with mites. Conversely, if we poison the mites, they will eventually build up a resistance at the expense of the bees.
Since we have just started winter, I know that it’s possible that some hives won’t make it, especially if I choose not to feed them. Those would be the weak hives. As a fairly new beekeeper I’m constantly questioning whether I’m doing the right thing. Right now, I am of the mindset that we should not be propping up weak hives because we will be passing on weak genetics. In my humble opinion when you capture a swarm, you should not kill that queen, but keep her with the swarm. She has survived the winter and proven herself. All my bees have come from swarms.
If my bees can make it to early February, the pussy willows will bloom and weather permitting, nectar and pollen will be available in a critical stage of winter.
Yesterday I noticed honeybees on the gorse blossoms down the road from me. This was a happy surprise because I don’t usually see bees on gorse blossoms possibly because gorse is harder to work (or so I’m told), but if there’s nothing else available, the bees will be able to get nourishment. Some individuals around here hate the gorse. It’s spiny thorns make it impossible to walk near, it grows prolifically, and it’s blamed for burning the town in the big 1936 fire.
March 4th note… We lost Del’s hive. It’s not a surprise because it never really built up any ‘honey weight’ pre-winter. I haven’t taken it apart yet, but when I do, I’ll clean it out, put in observation windows, and donate it back to the bee club.
We lost #3 Warré too. I took it down last week after I saw robber bees visiting it. There was still some capped honey in the combs. About 125 bees were dead on the bottom. Some of the combs were moldy, so I’m guessing it’s been dead for awhile. Both hives were weak hives. While I’m upset at having lost them, I’m thinking that maybe it’s for the best because if the bees can’t survive in our relatively mild winter, maybe they shouldn’t be in the gene pool. I’m down to six hives now, but the willow tree has been blooming for about three weeks and I can see the bees bringing in orange pollen and that means nectar too!