WARNING: This will not be the most pleasant and cheerful of bee blog posts….I must talk about the ugly but important reality. I cannot deny it.
Like the current state of politics in this country…deny to your detriment.
This is the reality. Beekeepers are finding out that we can no longer ignore varroa mites in our hives. It’s not a good idea to pretend they are not there. Or imagine the beehives will pull through without some intervention.
Sadly, it’s not like the days when great grandpa kept bees. That was a bygone time when the mysteries of the bee world— their hive secrets and intimate life—were not constantly tampered with. They were left mostly to their own devices. The hives ebbed at times, but mostly flowed prolifically, rewarding their keeper with honey—generous and abundant every summer. Grandpa did not need to pay them much attention(or so I’ve heard) til it was time to move them or steal their honey.
I took up beekeeping with rosy pictures in my mind of pastoral scenes filled with beehives. I did not plan to take care of them every single day. I did not want more domesticated animals that I must feed, water, vaccinate and clean their toilets and homes. For me, bees were a vestige of the wild with which humans could still interact. It was exhilarating to learn about them, observe and care for them without needing to perseverate about their diseases or bowel movements or babies.
And then came the mites.
These days, to me, beekeeping seems much more domesticated. I must test them, treat them, clean out their piles of dead colleagues, keep an eagle eye on their patterns and habits. Like the medieval bubonic plague. Like the AIDS of the apis world. Like the deadly flu that never goes away. You must pay attention. All. The. Time.
If you have mites and do not test and treat, your bees will die. If not now, in the dearths of late summer, fall or winter when then are weakened.
According to bee researcher Dr. Thomas Seeley, in his presentation “Tracking the Wild Honeybee”, he found that feral honeybees are naturally selecting for genetics that will keep mites at bay. Or at least, only a minor scourge that they can survive.
Until bees, like humans, figure out how to overcome and adapt to diseases that sicken and decimate their populations—such as the human measles, mumps, polio, smallpox, AIDS, Spanish flu—we either let them collapse and let the genetics of the remnant rise like a phoenix out of the ashes, or we help them along.
Ok. Enough of the dire news. The good news is that we no longer have to burn our hives if they have mites. Though it was once mandated by agricultural extensions and universities, desperate to stamp out the mites by a scorched earth policy.
So, I try to support my bees without using the heavy artillery—which is hard on them. Like chemotherapy, sometimes the cure can be more deadly than the disease.
I try to do a hybrid of natural selection, re-queening, and a beehive cleanse and immune strengthener. These essential oil remedies seem to have helped at least 5 of my hives survive the mites this past winter. I use it 2-3 X before winter sets in or as the Spring buildup begins—just to knock the mites back—and let the girls do the rest of the heavy lifting.
Here’s two recipes:
Essential Oil beehive cleanse
1 quart of water
2 tsp tea tree oil
1 tsp wintergreen
2-3 drops lemongrass
Mix for 5 minutes at low speed to emulsify.
Add 1 cup of mixture to boiled sugar water (1:1 sugar/water) and feed
Oregano oil beehive cleanse
2 cups of boiled sugar water (1:1 sugar/water)
1 drop of food grade oregano
Mix and feed.
Meanwhile, what does bee-think teach me about the ugly reality of politics in this country today?
It’s possible to overcome destroyers, but it takes great resilience, adaptability and persistence. We cannot go to sleep. We must remain vigilant and awake. We must help one another stay strong.