Never Take Anything for Granted

I did my mite counts in August, for once, when they should be done.  I was very proud of myself.  Of course you know that the reason for doing counts by mid-August is so that mites can be controlled before the bees begin rearing the fat winter bees.  I did counts on all of my colonies except for one.  That one was a colony I removed from the soffit of someone’s house in July.  The queen didn’t survive, but the eggs made the trip all right and the colony raised a nice, new queen for themselves.  So, I knew  that in July, right in the middle of brood rearing season, this colony had a big brood break.  That should be enough to handle any mite issue, right? And it especially  should be fine in a colony that is mite resistant right?  This is my excuse for not counting their mite load when I did all the rest.

Assumption is the mother of all “grand errors”

Luckily, I listened to that little voice in my head this week, and did a  powdered sugar roll on that colony. I couldn’t believe the mites falling like pepper out of a shaker.         17 mites per/300 bees.  Way over the limit of 9/300!

I am beginning to hate MAQS

I checked the weather, it wasn’t supposed to get over 83 all week, but just to be “safe”, I used only one strip, took the slider out of the screened bottom board, removed the entrance reducer, and put an eke on top.  I removed the strip today.

Here’s where the agony comes in

The MAQS (that’s Mite Away Quick Strips) had killed my beautiful young queen.  The bees had  15 queen cells going.  I’d be thrilled with that if it were earlier in the season.  Right now, though, there isn’t time.  Bee math says that these queens will emerge in 9 more days, then it will be 3 days to harden and mate, then a few days before the new queen starts laying, and a week or two before she is really up to speed.  That equals  3 weeks before the colony can really get going on the fat bees, and in the meantime, during that 3 weeks the colony will lose about half of its population, which means fewer bees to cover brood, which means slower production of fat bees.  And then, of course, is the fact that there are not enough drones flying at this time of year to be sure of a well-mated queen.

I know in my head, without a doubt, that I must remove the queen cells so that the bees will accept a new queen.  I cut two cells off of the first frame, then there were 4 cells on the next one.  With each new frame, I had to convince myself that killing these baby queens, the hope of the colony, was the right thing to do.  5 capped cells on the next frame, and I was giving myself a pep talk about how the genetics were obviously not good, or they wouldn’t have had such a high mite count.  All the time that I spent really looking so I didn’t miss a single queen cell, the bees were keening, that sad sound that they make when they are queenless.  In my imagination, it got louder with each queen cell I scraped off.  Killing all those little queens was truly agony!  I hated it, even though I knew it was the right thing to do.

Oh, The Joy!

The joy of having a queen “in the bank” so to speak, is wonderful.  If I didn’t have a little nuc and queen just sitting there waiting for a big colony with lots of honey to coast through winter on, I would be desperately searching for a queen, and paying through the nose for queen and shipping.  Every beekeeper should pull out a small nuc during the summer, even if they needed to pull resources from multiple colonies to set it up.  This is the ultimate locally adapted queen, the one raised in your own apiary.

Lessons Learned

  1. Set up a nuc during the busy brood rearing season.
  2. Count mites on all colonies at the right time. (make no assumptions)
  3. Keep only colonies that keep mites under control. Remember that every colony in the apiary contributes genetics both in the drone population and in the egg that will become the queen.
  4. Kill baby queens when necessary
  5. Learn bee math

I have learned a lot about fat winter bees recently.  I’ll write about that next.  Thanks for reading!  T