Now There’s a buzz

After the silence, now, there’s a few small wild bees, a smattering of bumble bees, a few wasps, and some honeybees.

As native bee forage dries up, the wild bees concentrate on  blooming city plants.  Russian Sage normally swarms with bees.

Not so this year. But there’s a smattering. And that’s a big change from a month ago.

The Good, Not So Good

My bees are languishing like they did last year. Despite a better season and feeding, a speedy buildup didn’t happen:

  • varroa isn’t a problem
  • no diseases was detected
  • the queens are young and fertile
  • they have good brood patterns

But the hives just haven’t built up.

A detailed inspection shows these hives are stressed. Some have symptomatic chalkbrood.  Others have a few cells of a non-descriptive EFB/AFB type foulbrood.

Another inspection will show if it’s foul, or if it’s something poisonous. With just a couple of brood cycles left, it’s a race to save them for winter.

Past beekeeping skills have failed these hives. Randy Oliver sums it up in the August 2010 edition of the American Bee Journal. On page 769 he writes:

Then in 2004 and 2005  my bees weren’t right. At first they just didn’t build up normally, and often exhibited the odd symptoms as seen in Fig. 3 and 4. Then they suffered serious fall and winter collapses…..

It’s a great read. And describes my bee experience since returning from Florida. Initially the bees were mite and disease free. But they’ve never been the same.

Like Randy, I’ve blamed their condition on a other problems. Some were  a factor in their decline.

Last year, they declined as I essentially left them alone. This year they went through a similar decline with extensive management and feeding.

As a commercial beekeeper in the mid 70’s, I experienced classical CCD before mites/viruses were a problem. Been there. Done that.

So, I know what classical CCD looks like. But this is different.

Randy subjected a few test hives to viral cocktails. That testing shows two ways the bees respond to virus overloading. The first resembles classical CCD. The other is a slow motion version, where bees disappear gradually over time.

Maybe this is what I’m experiencing.

And I’ve seen parasitic mite syndrome first hand. Been there and done that as well. My bees don’t have PMS.

Randy is right. Something has changed.

I’m not sure what it is or how to deal with it. But my bees are stressed. And after 40 years of beekeeping experience, I can’t reverse the trend.

Except for a single hive, they are fragile. That’s not a word I associate with bees. Bees are adaptable, resourceful, robust and resilient, having survived and thrived through mellinea.

But not so my bees. If my experience follows Randy’s tests, next spring will be a devastating round of winter losses.

If the bees survive, some are going into a top bar hive or natural comb hive. It’s time to get off of the old small cell comb frames and onto new comb.

Some random thoughts:

  • is this decline related to the disappearance of wild bees?
  • is it a large scale, cyclical cleansing event like those seen in other natural systems?
  • has migration unwittingly infected my area with a new virus cocktail?
  • could a few old commercial frames switched when splitting my hives in the commercial yard be fatal?
  • should the old frames and comb been trashed?
  • there’s more spraying of pesticides, herbicides, mosquitoes, grasshoppers, etc than ever.
  • have environmental factors reached a critical threshold?
  • are bees headed adapting to another pest like Apis Cerana?


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