A Curious Beekeeper feels overwhelmed

The EAS Conference ended last night (Friday) in South Carolina. Overwhelmed is an understatement.

6 new Master Beekeepers were welcomed at Friday's banquet, including an Internet friend of mine, met in person for the first time at the conference. Next year’s EAS is in Maine, at the University of Maine in Orono during the first week of August. The next year (2021) looks like Massachusetts, but that is not written in stone yet.

The big message I took from the collected program is that Varroa mites can cause lots of big problems, primarily by weakening the bees' immune system and inoculating the bees with various viruses.

We’ve known for years that Varroa mites are something that should not be ignored. There is so much damage caused by viruses and various pathogens (including pesticides) that controlling Varroa is even more important today than it was a few years ago.

There wasn’t a consistent message of how to control, just that they need to be controlled.

Most beekeepers use an acaricide – some of them organic. The Honey Bee Health Coalition has a great guide that can assist in deciding what to do.

Though if you choose to be a completely natural beekeeper, even Dr. Seeley encourages euthanization of hives heavily infested with Varroa.

Which basically means all beekeepers – even those who have no intent of using any sort of treatment - need to pay attention to Varroa, monitoring to know what levels are.

If you choose to use a treatment, checking after the treatment to make sure it worked, is important. (Some of the acaricides still registered are not effective in parts of the country.)

The EPA has a label for each one stating how the pesticide is to be used, what applicator safety gear is required, and most everything else you could want to know including withdrawal periods (the time you need to wait before you can have supers on) and special use conditions (like temperature restrictions for using Formic Acid.)

Oxalic Acid Vaporization (OAV) is to be used when a colony doesn’t have brood. This time of year, most colonies have lots of brood. There are ways to break the brood cycle so you can use OAV – they require the beekeeper to do something like cage or remove the queen. Some of the speakers were adamant anti-Oxalic Acid, in that for them the risks to their own health when applying outweighed the result of killing mites.

We’re fast coming up on the time of year when the bees will start creating Winter Bees, or the long-lived bees that live through winter. Beekeepers were encouraged to anticipate the development of these Varroa and to do whatever they need to have the winter bees develop without Varroa 1) weakening their immune system or 2) shortening the winter bees lives. There isn’t universal clarity on when Winter Bees are born – in my part of Maine they start being born the 2nd half of August. An easy and not entirely precise way to think about Winter Bees is that they are the ones who come of foraging age after the killing frost. In other words, they are the ones who don’t work themselves to death foraging.

Many of us (myself definitely included) have had too many colonies that dwindled and died over winter. A small cluster unable to adequately thermo-regulate the hive or move to stores may technically die from something other than Varroa. But the reason the cluster was small to begin with can often be attributed to Varroa.

40%+ winter colony loss is too high. Controlling Varroa ought to be your first step in getting your personal loss number down.

It was a great conference but I’m glad to be making my way home and to get back to working with my bees. I checked my scale hive this morning so I can tell at least that a bear hadn’t taken it out, at least as of sometime yesterday.

I’m curious to hear what other beekeepers are doing to produce healthy Winter Bees. The temps for me look like they’ll peak in the 70s (F) for the next week, so I have options.

Are you doing anything interesting?

Andrew Dewey