-Posted by Isaac
What an awesome endeavor, this thing we call beekeeping!
On all levels.
As a hobby. As a business. Keeping bees, in my unbiased opinion, really is the most awesome thing going.
For me, it just keeps getting better and better. Like an aging wine. Or a deepening marriage. Better with time. I'm so happy to spend my days thinking about and working with bees. Does Jayne feel a touch of jealousy when I'm all starry eyed, gushing about my 30 million girlfriends? Perhaps. But I know she understands. Men have needs.
We're about a decade and a half into this awesomeness, and I can't help but think about the roller coaster ride. Good years and bad. There were years when almost all the hives pulled through the winter despite my ignorance, and other years when I thought we were on track, and we lost the majority of them. The things we learn...
Beekeeping holds its share of hard knocks. And as we go into this winter, I recently experienced another- perhaps the hardest and most common knock in the trade- varroa mites. I told you last week we'd rehash the mite topic and I'll bet the suspense has been killing you... what did he screw up now??
Well let me tell you-- I basically lost an entire yard, 16 hives, due to a stupid clerical error.
My yard records are two pages on a clipboard sitting next to me in the truck.
They contain information on 45 bee yards- what's been done, what needs done. And it changes with the season. I'll go through five of these over the course of the year.
I'll spare you the details, but basically I recorded the Ramey yard summer mite treatment on the Downs yard line. Those 16 Downs hives didn't get treated in August. And the thing is, the bees made plenty of fall honey and looked perfectly healthy in October. All seemed fine and dandy until the inevitable crash which came in November. That's how I discovered my blunder- cleaning up dead-outs, then looking back at my records to see what the hell happened.
So now that yard is down to four sickly hives struggling to make it through the next four months. It's sad. All due to a simple mistake. I know, I know, I should have been monitoring...
And I guess I'm telling you all this just to reiterate how real mite troubles can be. Even when you don't see it. Even in the spring and summer when it's barely noticeable.
As long as you've got brood, you've got mites. Like it or not. You can go about your merry beekeeping way, but you just can't let your guard down. They're insidious and stealthy, a growing problem that you hardly recognize before it's too late.
The link takes you to a blog post showing our summer mite treatment. Formic acid is what we use when the hives are full of brood. Summer is when it's important. In both honey production and winter survival, a good mite kill in July or August will pay dividends for months to come. Winter prep begins when you're wearing a t-shirt!
Making it to the winter with healthy bees is hard enough. Making it through the winter takes some forethought and skill. Some beekeepers really work at it.
Others like to talk about how much they know.
Whether you're a talker or a doer or both, the truth of your beekeeping prowess will shine through during the four long months of cold. In my humbling experience, it's best not to go bragging in early December.
Believe it or not, we're still worrying over mites. December is a perfect time to hit them where it hurts. The bees are basically broodless right now, so the mites have nowhere to hide. A little oxalic acid does the trick.
This is an organic treatment that really cleans things up in case you're still carrying a mite load. They say oxalic vapor will knock down close to 100% of your phoretic mites.
The key word being phoretic. This means the mites that are not hidden underneath the capped brood.
And here we find at least one redeeming quality to our sucky Ohio winters- in December and January nearly all the mites are phoretic! With the right treatment at the right time you can really start with a clean slate as far as your mite problems are concerned.
It's quick and easy. And once you have right tools, it's cheap too. I just go through hinging the mouse guards out with my hive tool...
...and blow the vapor right up into the winter cluster. It takes maybe ten seconds per hive. A mite remedy that ends up costing pennies per treatment. Harmless to the bees.
It's even kind of fun. I'm in and out of a yard in ten minutes, and maybe I've even done some good.
If not for the bees, for me- plenty of exercise. After the three inch rain we had a few weeks ago, I was still able to get out and do the first oxalic treatment.
I just had to truck everything through the mud in a wheelbarrow. Let's hope it was worth it.