Now There’s a buzz

The Bad Is Getting Better

Earlier, I wrote about the lack of native bees and the resulting silence. Now, I’m seeing lots of small wild bees, a smattering of bumble bees, a few wasps and some honeybees. Some of the smaller bees I’ve not seen before.

This time of the year, as native bee forage dries, the wild bees are concentrated on a few blooming city plants. Normally the Russian Sage is swarming with various kinds of bees. Not so this year. But it’s good to see at least a smattering. And that’s quite a change from the silence a month ago.

And The Good, Not So Good

My own bees continue to languish much like they did last year. In spite of this year’s better season and beekeeper added nutrition, the speedy buildup I’ve become accustomed to just didn’t happen. Varroa wasn’t a problem. Initially, no obvious diseases or visual symptoms of viruses were seen. The queens are young and fertile. They had good brood patterns. But the hives just haven’t built up.

Now a detailed inspection shows these hives are losing the battle with stress. Several have symptomatic amounts of chalkbrood. And several others have  a few cells of what appears like a non-bwguyescriptive EFB/AFB foulbrood. It will take another inspection to know if it’s foul or if they’ve gotten into something poisonous. Now, with just a couple of brood cycles left,  it’s going to be a race to save them for winter.

What I’ve done in the past just hasn’t worked for these hives. Randy Oliver pretty well 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…..”

Randy’s article is a great read. And it pretty much describes my bee experience since returning from Florida. Although initially the bees were mite and disease free, they’ve never been quite the same. Like Randy, I’ve blamed their condition on a variety of problems. Some of those problems were factors. But of themselves, they cannot account for the continued decline.

Last year my bees declined as I essentially left them alone, a management style that had worked for almost a decade. This year they went through a similar decline in spite of the most intensive and expensive beekeeping management possible.

As a commercial beekeeper, I had experienced classical CCD in the mid 70’s. All the classic symptoms were present. And that was before the mite problems began. Been there. Done that. I know what classical CCD looks like. But this is different.

Randy has mixed up some viral cocktails and tested them on his bees. His testing indicates the bees respond two ways to virus overloading. The first resembles classical CCD. The other is a slow motion version where bees disappear gradually over time rather than in the all at once classical fashion. Maybe this is what I’m experiencing.

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

Randy is right. Something has changed. And 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.

Excepting one hive, they are fragile. And that’s not a word I commonly associate with bees. Bees were adaptable, resourceful, robust and resilient having successfully survived through eons of change.

But not so my bees. If my experience follows Randy’s, I’m in for another devastating round of winter losses.

Next season, if the bees survive, I’m going to get some of them in a top bar hive and onto some natural comb. And I’m going to get the rest of them off of the old small cell comb frames and onto new comb.

Some random thoughts:

  • Could this decline be related to the general disappearance of the wild bees?
  • Is this decline a large scale cyclical cleansing event similar to those often seen in other natural systems?
  • Maybe beekeeper migration has unwittingly inoculated areas of the country with a new virus cocktail
  • Could the smattering of eon old commercial frames switched out by the commercial beekeeper who took care of my hives, be a factor?
  • Maybe I should have started these hives on clean natural comb rather than using old frames and combs
  • I’ve seen more spraying of pesticides, herbicides, mosquitoes, grasshoppers, etc than ever. Maybe environmental factors have reached a critical threshold
  • Maybe the bees are headed for a new round of adaption to another pest like Apis Cerana?