Well, I’ve got a complete lack of bees and an abundance of empty equipment. It’s a first for me since I established my test yard in 1984. That yard has had an interesting history. I probably should have saved all those yard notes throughout the years. But when I went natural most of them were irrelevant and I dumped them out along with all the chemicals, etc. Here’s a little history of my test yard:
- 1984 – Established conventional run Langstroth hive yard east of Casper, Wyoming next to the North Platte river. No treatments needed or used. Uncommon maladies like chalkbrood or sacbrood were handled by requeening
- 1985 – Moved yard east of Glenrock, Wyoming. First encounter with Death Camas. It was abundant at a time when little else was available. Caused sustained bee paralysis and death until all the pollen was consumed out of the combs
- 1990 – Moved the bees to Riverton, Wyoming. This is as good as it gets for beekeeping in Wyoming. Maximum biodiversity. Abundant irrigation. Lots of escaped weeds. Moderate weather and wind. Acquired some interesting queens. The bees were small, black, and runny. Bees would clump on a frame pulled from the hive and then fall off to the ground. A few puffs of smoke into the top of a three story hive, would cause the bees to quickly empty the hive as fast as they could run and form a clump on the ground
- 1992 – Moved the yard west of Casper. The best beekeeping area here. But not enough seasonal nutrition for permanent yards. Extreme winter winds. Yard wintered east of Casper along the river
- 1993 – Hives suffered from PMS. Saw first varroa mites. Began treating with mite strips. Thought, like everyone else at that time, if we could kill all the mites beekeeping would get back to normal
- 1996 – Experienced negative impacts from treating. Poor queen life/performance. Poor overwintering. Beginning of treatment resistant mites. Starting looking for alternatives. Talked with Erickson, Hines, and the Lusby’s. Decided to abandon mite strips and run this yard without them. Got every kind of queen I could buy. Starting counting mites and selecting/breeding stock. Package bees were needed to keep equipment filled with bees
- 1999 – Experienced some success with selection. Reduced average mite counts by a magnitude. But still not enough to keep treatment free hives. Began experimenting with soft treatments like formic acid, mineral oil, essential oils
- 2000 – Bought Russian breeder queens from USDA. Another magnitude decrease in mite load making Russian bees almost mite tolerant. Began small cell test
- 2001 – Phenomenal small cell results. Abandon other efforts and focus on small cell
- 2002 – Start top bar hive and natural comb observations. End of package bees as hives are again full of bees and queens productive
- 2003 – Went natural. Left small cell behind
- 2007 – Hives moved into a conventional, treated, migratory commercial operation
- 2009 – Hives retrieved and setup in their own beeyard. No sign of mite or brood disease problems even though commercial hives in the same yard required continuous mite treatments and antibiotic resistant brood disease was evident. But hives fail to thrive. Erroneously attribute problem to drought/forage and old queens
- 2010 – Hives split up and requeened. Bees fail to consume feed. Continue to decline
- 2011 – Hives die of slow motion CCD
So that’s the end of that. No more special yard. No more special bees.
But there will soon be thousands of hives booming with fat, corn fed honeybees, fresh from the almonds, unloaded near here. It’s a tough shake for those bees coming from California to an April Wyoming. And it’s even tougher on the beekeepers who must keep the corn syrup and pollen patties flowing until the dandelion’s bloom in May.
A delicate balance, that. Too little feed, and the hives will cannibalize their own brood, crippling the hive for the summer. Too much, and the bees swarm with the first dandelions. And then there’s the weather and getting around. Better too much feed than too little. And I’m counting on it.
Swarms seldom naturally overwinter and survive here. But with an abundance of trucked, corn syrup fed bees and some of my strategically placed empty equipment, all things are possible. Maybe I can harvest a few of those swarms for myself. And what could be better than those almond bees that have been exposed to every kind of pest, pesticide, and pestilence a beekeeper has nightmares over.
So, that’s my plan. I’ve never tried trapping swarms before. But it should be interesting and a chance to learn something new.