Monday, July 27, 2015

Battling Pests

I meant to post a picture of my wasp trap the other day. Here it is:

used a variety of liquid bait, but what has worked best is Mountain Dew (jacked up with added sugar) and apple juice/vinegar. The trap in the photo above is a jar with a small hole in the lid. I smeared the underside of the lid with jam. It has been very effective. I also used empty plastic bottles with the top cut off and inverted. These work, but not as well. 

Also effective is the bees themselves. Since I had to take the entrance reducer out (see Formic acid discussion below), the wasps were really crowding the door. The bees were being aggressive and defending the hive by knocking the wasps away. To help them a bit, I stuffed some grass in the opening. Seemed like a reasonable compromise. 

The bit of pink on the bottom of the hive in the picture above is sidewalk chalk. It is supposed to keep ants out, and seems to work. I just drew loopy doodles around the lowest brood box. 

I have had a visitor to the hives as evidenced by the picture below. 

I have found two such … piles. Fox, perhaps? I don't know. 

Yesterday I broke down and installed Formic acid dispensers in each hive (to treat varroa). In case you are interested, I'm using 85%. I was worried about how the bees would react to the acid. I didn't have any problem handling it-- although I wore dishwashing gloves and my glasses and brought a bucket of water with me -- but the smell is apparently quite strong, and the bees don't like it. Now I'm worried that it won't be strong enough to do the job, but everything I've read says "READ AND FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS!" So no going off piste here. That said, it looks like business as usual for the bees. No piles of sad bee corpses anyhow. At least not yet. 

I was told to open the hive door, but to install the tray that goes under the hive (which blocks much of the ventilation that comes from underneath). I was afraid this would be a problem, but seems okay. 

I'm reading more and more online about the benefits of not using foundation, particularly in terms of varroa treatment. Left to their own devices, the bees make smaller cells, and the mites prefer larger cells. As I replace frames, I'm going foundationless (with a Toblerone-shaped strip of wood trim at the top of the frame as a starter). 

Lots and lots of pollen going into the hive the past few days (well, perhaps longer, but I've been paying attention this week). I don't know exactly what it is, although says that chestnut and nettle is heavy this week. Not sure what color nettle pollen is. The picture above doesn't really show it, but there were as many as four or five bees with full pollen trousers in the hive entrance. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

WASPS! And Other Vermin

I have done some varroa counts over the summer and find my numbers seem to be off the chart. I treated the hives twice with powdered sugar (once I remembered to put the trays in so I could count what came off the bees -- it was impressive), but this method only removes varroa mites that are ON the bees and not any inside the brood cells.

I will have to treat with something stronger. Stand by for further details.

In the meantime, I was at the hive yesterday and noticed a LOT of yellow jacket activity. A quick google showed that this, too, is a problem and the wasps will raid hives eating larva and honey. I have read accounts of people discovering an entire hive wiped out in short order.

I swear this beekeeping thing is more stressful than parenthood. So much can go wrong!

One immediate suggestion was to reduce the size of the hive entrance so it will be easier for the bees to police themselves. My hives (all purchased hives) come with a removeable entrance reducer. I had a bit of trouble as mine seem to have swollen or otherwise reshaped themselves, but  I managed to install them and I think they are doing the job.

In the meantime, I have had a few discussions with several of the more experienced beekeepers I know about matters ranging from honey extraction to varroa treatment to preparation for winter. The adage remains consistent: Ask 10 beekeepers and you will get 11 opinions!

H and A are old school: they believe in managing the hives. M is more New Age: he manages his hives minimally, believing the bees know best. I wander all over the map, but more and more I tend to believe that, as in childbirth, Nature knows best. That many of our beekeeping problems have arisen because we get in there and try to control things. That many times beekeepers do something because that is the way it has always been done. That said, as in childbirth, I have only a few months experience. It feels uncomfortable to challenge a beekeeper with decades of experience.

My husband point out that the good news here is that H, A, and M all seem to have successful hives. If they are operating at opposite ends of the spectrum, perhaps there is no right or wrong way to do things. Time will tell, I suppose.

Tomorrow A is coming to look at my hives and give me some advice. Saturday is a practical session at M's hives. While I already know I am going to follow M's suggestions (I had a chat with him last week), I still want to hear what A has to say. I want to hear what all beekeepers have to say.

Sting Update: Got stung on my nose during my last powdered sugar treatment. I had my snout RIGHT in the frames, and a bee got me right on the side of my nose. My daughter reports that not only did I NOT drop the box of bees/frames I was holding, I didn't even swear. Further, I had no evidence of the sting by the time I got home. Oh, it HURT a LOT at the time. Made my eyes water. But very quickly I was fine.