Mentors Bee – Aware

This was shared from a friend at NOPBA.  The article is long but if you are considering becoming a mentor it is a must read.

It was my third year that I went to a seminar over at WSU in Pullman, where I ran into a commercial beekeeper who asked me what I was doing to control mites.  I said basically nothing as I didn’t really know what to do…  I will never forget he looked me straight in the eye and very calmly said, “ohhh… you have to have a plan in place to keep your bees alive.  It’s not like it used to be.” 

I had a newbee a few years ago who was very enthusiastic about her new bees and had a colony (one) in the Sequim Valley. She installed them from a package.  It was a beautiful location beside an open field with a little creek nearby – absolutely perfect sun exposure, etc., etc.  One day in the middle of the summer, she called and wanted to know if she should put on the third box.  I said that I had no idea… that we would have to look.  I went over to see and found one of the most beautiful mid-summer colonies I had ever seen.  Big fat, bright Italian queen, just loaded with capped brood, larvae all over the place, foragers happily coming and going – it was just a gorgeous thing.  

I looked over to the side about 40 feet away and saw two more hives in a nearby apple orchard.  They were leaning a bit and surrounded by overgrown grass.  It was obvious no-one was managing them.  I found out these two colonies belonged to the landowner who had purchased the bees “last year” to pollinate his apples.  I went over to watch the entrances, and something was way wrong.  The bees were sluggish, and the flight activity was very low.  I asked if they had done anything about Varroa and the landowner guy said he didn’t really know about beekeeping and never heard of Varroa…  I asked him if he wanted me to take a sample and see, and he agreed.

I opened this colony, and first of all, they were way more pissed than they should have been.  I did find a queen, but they were sick.  Again… the telltale signs of varrosis all over the place.  The alcohol wash was almost unbelievable – I stopped counting at 100, and there were more… In a 1/2 cup sample, there over 100 mites.  This was a mite bomb !!  The other colony was dead and full of old moldy combs.  They had died over winter, and the colony had never been opened.

Anyway…. I decided we’d better wash her gorgeous new bees and see where we were at.  Sure enough – the sample of 300 bees dropped about 35.  Ahhh SHOOT !!!   That was waaay too many.  This particular individual was very leery about doing “treating” of any kind because she had read that it is unnecessary and hard on the bees to do this.  (Meanwhile, her bees were living next door to a full-blown mite bomb and were sitting there with over 10% mites in mid-season).  I convinced her and her husband that this colony would definitely not make it through winter with this many mites.  Eventually, they relented and agreed to let me try to knock them down.  She didn’t have a honey super on, and all I had was my OAV setup, so I went ahead and vaporized them, hoping to at least take some pressure off.  (Of course, we know that treating as a “reactive” measure is a long shot.  These bees should have been monitored from day one, and the mite bomb next door should have been euthanized).  I drove away that day, knowing that those beautiful bees were probably doomed.  I decided I really couldn’t force this person to do something they didn’t want to do, so I figured it was probably the last time I would ever see them again.

Well, about 6 weeks later, they called again and wanted me to check these bees. She thought something might be wrong because there were a lot of dead bees out front.  It was after the fair, so it had to have been sometime in September.   I remember opening the colony, hoping not to see what I saw… sure enough, the telltale signs of varroasis were all there.  The colony was dead; it just didn’t know it yet.   Meanwhile, the mite bomb next door had gone queenless, and a robbing episode was in full swing.  Short of actively managing this colony on an almost daily basis, treating in some fashion, perhaps putting on a robbing screen too late, etc., etc., etc. – there really wasn’t much I could do with her bees.  (First of all, it was 20 miles from my house, and they weren’t my bees).

So it was at the OCTOBER club meeting that year.  I remember it well.  I was getting things set up before the meeting, and people were standing around talking.  I saw her and her husband sitting and waiting, and I asked how her bees were doing.  Her husband got up and approached me at the table and said, “those bees are all gone!!  That hive is empty !!”  I said, oh noooo…and looked at the lady still sitting.  When we made eye contact, she said, “YOU KILLED MY BEES, didn’t you !!”    

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