My summer-Your summer
October 20, 2012
Fellow Beekeepers: The summer is over. This season was a mixture of surprise and disappointment. I made it through the season with about 50% less in honey supers but with nearly 250 % more bees considering I started with 8 hives. Each have a minimum of 20 full frames of honey and wax more than what I started with a total of 14 new hives. In addition, I was able to bless some of my friends with the gift of life in the way of the honey bee so this would account for another 10 nucleus colonies and swarms here and there. Most of the new hives developed from Nucs. So my entire yard has New Jersey queens. My honey harvest came in at 240 pounds. I experienced in one hive, the reality of laying workers and came to some new learning with the help of a really experienced bee man-Karoly Toth. After swarms; and some you never see go, the hive is left set up with pre-emergent queens that require successful mating to be fertile. Somehow, one of the swarm hives went queen-less and was unable to create another queen. It is up to the reader to understand why or ask. With no queen, brood production disappears shortly. Typically, the hive is replete with full frames of capped brood for a while, but they soon emerge and there appears no milk brood or replacement brood thereafter. Brood pheromone helps stabilize the sterile worker nest bee state, but this condition wanes after the brood disappears. The youngest of the nurses become laying workers and the condition of the hive deteriorates because laying workers produce only drones, and are hopelessly imprinted on themselves. Laying workers will destroy pre-emergent queens or queens placed into the hive for the purpose of re-queening the hive. The practical solution is to remove any and all honey from the hive and place it into other hives. The next step is to remove frames of brood and house bees out away from the hive 300 feet and shake the bees off onto the ground. All brood is sacrificed because one can neither determine the quality of it or that it is all drone brood potentially infested with mites. This simple solution allows foragers to migrate to new hives and gets rid of the rest of dying hive. The equipment was cleaned and put back into service. Good experienced beekeepers accept that hives will come and go but find practical solutions that allow the apiary to sustain itself. The hive that was lost produced 4 nucleus hives.
This incredible increase in bee numbers was caused by an early spring. Drone appeared early and this led me to predict an early mite season, entirely based upon the biology of mite reproduction. I decided that I would take a wait and see approach with my bees and commit to an experimental learning experience. I deliberately decided to put off using my Mite Away Quick Strips (MQS) in the early spring while the temperatures were in the 70s or low 80s. I did invite some folks from NW and I think Raritan valley Beekeepers, to come over and have a mite counting party following the alcohol wash procedure. In late May, early June timeframe my counts were 5 to 10% max. I had a swarm and measured the mite numbers in the cluster and determined an estimate of infestation. I am sure you can envision that process. There is no hive to mess with. The swarm had 3 % infestation. My hives were between 5 and 10 percent infested with varroa mites. Yet, the hives looked healthy and indeed they were then. My beekeeper visitors seemed to be surprised at how easy and accurate the mite count technique was. I measured 3 hives on one row and 2 hives on the second row and developed an average of 4 and change and rounded to 5%. All of them were 3% or above to accommodate the average. The high count was 7%.
As we develop more experience with doing mite counts a question develops about how many colonies in the yard do we test? I believe in leaving the hives alone when possible. On the other hand knowing of an early spring ramp and a viable healthy drone and a possible mite load, requires a look see. We thought to check the oldest hives and decided that if we found less than 2 percent (6 mites per 300 nest bees or ½ cup of nest bees) we would look at another hive. 5 percent in June is high and should be treated. However, I needed and wanted to see the results of what a high mite counts predict.
Our hypothesis should be that the presence of mites predisposes the hive to a weakened condition that not even a great location would allow the hive to counteract. Now for a moment we stop and think of the hive as the organism and forget about the individual bees. Focus on what mite infestation does to the hive systemically. I had envisioned a definite demarcation point for the onset of bent wing virus pathology. This pathology is one of dwindle as the virus infected fly off from the hive. These virus damaged foragers are replaced by nest bees that are similarly deformed by the effects of the virus. Their nurse bee functionality was impaired by damage suffered by the mite or the lack of adequate pollen supplies to allow their fat bodies to develop. The colony suffers. Normal age polyethism in the hive is disrupted and fast forwarded. The social fabric of the hive is diminished as successive populations of future nurse bees are devastated by parasitic mite syndrome. In addition to the drone, there are so many mites at this point; they are infesting the worker caste brood as well. Every type of nest bee is affected. Eventually the queen comes into jeopardy and her productivity is diminished by lack of nurse bees, which produce royal jelly and provide other vital tasks like feeding the young and foragers tropholastically their allotment of nutritional protein
Can this situation be reversed? What are the essential steps? My hypothesis is yes this hive pathology can be reversed. The hive as an organism can be returned to functionality, provided that they underlying causes of pathology are remedied. This functionality is essential to build a healthy population of unparasitized healthy winter bees. What are the essential steps? We shall see below, but first, what were the causes, and how do we determine them. Could this be what Tim has been talking about all along?
Tim Schuler visit in early September 2012
September 3 was Labor Day. I treated all of my hives for mites with MQS at this time. One box hives received ½ treatments. I removed all of the pads 7 or 8 days later because the pads impede airflow in the hives. Tim Schuler came to visit on September 11. And indeed we did make some observations. I had called him about the presence of bent wing in 2 of my hives. So we did many things. Tim immediately picked up on a multitude of dead mites as he sampled brood for shipment to a laboratory for analysis. This brood was under the cap. The mites were dead yet under the cap. This would mean that the MQS active ingredient formic acid was able to penetrate the cap and kill mites. There were no live mites observed. They were bright red (female) varroa mites. There were some deformed wing bees that were flying off and crashing. Many were seen crawling in the grass. Tim also saw paralysis virus at the other end of my yard. The paralysis virus is also associated with varroa mite infestation as well. On the positive side, there was also a multitude of new brood forms developing in all of my hives. That was good to see. Observation of healthy looking young larva means one has a viable queen. In certain hives there were low volumes of nectar stored so Tim suggested a stimulatory shot of 50/50 percent cane sugar solution. He also indicated that my hives should recover nicely and put on weight. His samplings will tell me of Nosema, and several types of bee viruses, and what kind of mites were in samples of brood and nest bees. I plan to share the results with the membership to prove my point about the association of viruses and mites and the outcome. Tim also recommended treating my hives with teramycin when PMS is observed in the bee yard. It was his experience that this treatment would boost hive immunity to bacterial brood disease, but might also benefit bee intestinal symbiosis. Since the brood nest was recovering from PMS.
We also observed no Brood Disease (foul brood or any type), except the signs of PMS or parasitic mite syndrome. I have enclosed a link for people to go see what parasitic mite syndrome looks like. This observation of what PMS looks like, by a trained eye (Tim Schuler) has caused me a learning experience. Most if not all of my overwintering losses were due to mites and the effects of viruses. I remember confusing the appearance of the capped brood patterns with foul brood but was confounded when I found that there were either adults or pre-emergent adults under the cap when I investigated the remains the following spring. I then suggested to myself that this might be chill brood when the finding was of mummified larvae.
(This picture is a courtesy of the MAAREC website)
Link to website:
Now, if your brood nest looks something like this picture it is parasitic mite syndrome. We found several frames in two different hives with fresh larvae in all forms of development, and with a little of the above thrown in. The question is, do hives actually recover from PMS or do they dwindle and die over the winter? We should propose an answer and then test it. If the mite population is not brought down and the hive allowed to recover a population of non-parasitized bees for winter it will look as above throughout the hive with maybe a few dead bees with their heads stuck into a feeding position of in a small cluster frozen to death. This is the end of the trail for the untreated hive housing mite hammered bees. The above picture is not quite typical of what I saw in my yard, but almost there. My hives had just recovered from a treatment with MQS and the queens had just started laying eggs again. There were only small perforations in the cap, which either revealed a semi-desiccated larva or dead pupae. In some instances larvae had not been capped (bald brood). There were very few house bees present with bent wing. It seems that they evacuated the hive. Tim and I saw some of them and we collected crawlers in the grass around the hives. They too went to the laboratory for analysis.
Between September 11 and now, the rain has returned and the goldenrod honey flow has sustained itself in my vicinity. I am happy to report that as a consequence of my treatment with MQS and subsequent feeding, my hives have rebounded. There is little or no evidence of bent wing or paralysis virus in my yard. The hives have recovered to healthy numbers of house and forager bees.
I have since found a
couple of hives have not fully filled out to winter weight.
Those hives require feeding with 2:1 sucrose cane sugar and
water (w/w). The weight
to weight ratio here is pounds to pounds.
So to make a little more than a gallon of mix a useful
measure is 10 pounds of sugar and 5 pounds of water as the
ingredients. I boil the
water before I add the sucrose and stir.
I carefully heat the mixture with stirring to make sure that
the sucrose doesn’t burn and thoroughly dissolves.
I stop feeding the syrup when the top hive weighs 80 to 90
pounds. All feeding with
syrup should stop as a rule of thumb in November.
Condensation will begin to occur in the hive and cause the
development of a diseased condition in the hive as the temperatures
vary. Starting in about
November, consider feeding bee candy if it becomes necessary.
(Hive Number 8) Picture supplied by C. Ilsley Typical Healthy Brood Pattern. This pattern was also observed in hive number 1, which had a nasty case of PMS. Now there is no PMS sign in the hive. I deliberately did not replace the queen. Many references say to replace the queen. This is most likely because a new young queen like a new broom sweeps clean. She will produce much brood and replace the diminished numbers of nest bees with a new population.
This full frame is typical of brood nest throughout my yard. Not only is the mite treatment required but time to recover from the treatment is equally important. With time, and a good goldenrod honey flow, and sufficient high quality protein and nectar available to build good brood as shown above; the hive numbers will be up. If you find that you are spinning your wheels testing your hives, then stop testing and spend your time treating them. If you cannot figure out what to do with your honey supers use MQS and a ½ face respirator. Remember to wear glasses to prevent eye contact with the chemical. That is, spend time treating your bees because ultimately you will discover that you need to. One hive above 2 percent in the year will become a source of infestation for your hives.
If you have good stores and healthy brood nest and are sure of the mite levels in your hives, you are done for the winter. Persons using frame feeders will have to remove them before November is over depending upon temperature. Feeding frames and tape should be in place in case feeding bee candy becomes necessary as a result of frivolous foraging.
I cannot wait to see the results of the infectious disease survey conducted by Tim Schuler. I want to make sure the virus symptoms my hives showed were consistent with known bee viruses in New Jersey. That is the reason. Tim and I did not see overt Nosemosis in my yard. This study will show that one cannot simply treat once during the mite season and expect to get away Scott-free because the mite levels may have gotten too high before the end of July. So treat for mites when it is necessary is the rule, not just once during mite season and expect salvation. If the numbers of mites are kept low the effects of virus will not appear. If viruses appear both mites and viruses have to be attended to. First the mite levels, then the hive has to be turned around holistically-nutritionally so that it can replace the damaged “cells” (in our case bees), so that the entire unit can return to functionality. I have observed that hives can recover and apparently will. But just like a horse or anything else, the body needs to heal itself.
Another thing is sooner or later, the old dark wax in the hive has to be replaced. Although I do not like to invade my hives and tear them apart, they were designed with that in mind. So, not only should we treat for mites, we should also cycle out our old wax and replace three or four frames a year if possible per box so that the oldest frames of wax in the hive are 3 years old. I am speaking of brood nest in this case. However replacing wax is a love affair for spring beekeepers. Honey supers get worked over by the honey harvesting process.
What about treating in mid to late spring for Mites? You bet! The only way mites can sneak up on you is if you are not watching. How do you watch? Quantitate using any variety of techniques we have shown you. Visit scientific beekeeping .com to learn the technical basis for these techniques, especially alcohol wash procedure. Do you need to do every hive? No, I don’t think so. Start with the oldest hive and look for the magic number of 2 percent mite to bee ratio. That would be 6 mites per 300 nest bees or ½ cup of nest bees. However, what happens if you want to do a late fall treatment to diminish the free mites in the hives? You cannot do this with Apiguard. With MQS, the minimum temperature for effective treatment is 50 degrees F. That is, 50 degrees at least the day time high. There is really no bearding at this temperature. By the end of the first month of fall, October 21, I have not experienced bearding at all. However, be mindful of the possibility of temperature drops.
So in conclusion, I believe the above is experienced by beekeepers of all experience levels. New Beekeepers see it but cannot connect the dots. Experienced beekeepers see the signs but were hampered up until recently from treating for mites with MQS. This is a unique product because at ½ dose quantities mites still drop-in the 80 to 90 percent range. So we have heretofore newfound flexibility of application. Furthermore, it is also recommended to leave honey supers on. The viruses above, I believe will always show their effects upon the honey bee under certain conditions. This viral association, whether it passes from parent to off spring or vectored by the mite will express itself if the mite levels are too high. So, what does this mean? There are a few possibilities. How does a fever blister show itself but as a painful sore? Only a few of us know that this sore is a viral lesion causes by Herpes virus, dormant in a cranial nerve. Stress brings this virus out. Many times we don’t even know what the stress is. However, with the honey bee, tried and true is the observation that bent wing or paralysis virus doesn’t show when the mite levels are low. It seems that there have to be enough mites causing sufficient damage to strategic significant bee caste members like nurse bees for virus damage to show up in numbers that allow us to see deformed honey bees. Now the hive is about to lose an organ of sorts akin to kidney or liver damage. The loss of most of the nurse bees in the hive is not an easy thing to recover from. I wonder how my hives survived!
Not it is time to remind everyone of what Mr. Schuler has to say. Treat for mites! I will never grow tired of telling this story and why. It is good to learn the why of things.
Remember to keep our soldiers in mind and in your prayers. Those kids are our children.
President, NW Beekeepers