According to the calendar, it’s two days until the official start of Spring. Although it is currently snowing in Colorado Springs, I am extremely excited to begin a new bee keeping season. Coming out of Winter, the majority of the hives are looking good.
Unfortunately, hive losses are part of the yearly-calendar season. This is especially so, as we are human and a treatment free operation. Out of the five losses (12%) we’ve had, at least two of them were due to queen/varroa mite issues. I’m not sure which happened first: the varroa mites and the diseases they bring crippled her highness and her followers; they became queen-less and/or sensed something was wrong with her. Either way, both hives had multiple capped queen cells under there clusters. The remaining clusters, of both hives, were slightly bigger than a softball. Two, of the other three hives lost, were new nucleus colonies that had plenty of stores. Unfortunately, they had other issues, including not being able to overcome a high varroa mite load.
Since we do not chemically treat for varroa mites, it would be totally useless to count them (keep track of hives with high loads). In the end, as we do not treat these hives, the only information we would gain is what particular hive can live and be productive with high mite loads and documenting which hives had a high varroa mite load before they reached there demise.
Without counting varroa mites, some of the same information can be observed otherwise. For instance, deformed-wingspan virus (DWV), and acute bee paralysis virus (ABPV) can be seen and both happen from high varroa mite loads. In addition, hives that are not productive or “slow” to build up are always suspected of having more varroa mites than they can manage. These are the first to be re-queened. Opening up drone brood comb is another way to keep track of varroa mite loads. Some beekeepers even cull them to keep the mites manageable.
Because it is not part of our goal, I don’t see our operation doing these things. However, we will continue to propagate from our oldest, most productive hives. In essence, this equals bees that can control varroa mites on their own and honey for their keeper.
I look forward to the upcoming season and All Hail Spring!