The bees are buzzing and we have already made several inspections of the hive. So far there is no sign that they might swarm (there are no baby queen/princess cells) and our queen seems to be happily laying.
She’s a new queen, hatched last summer and the ‘bee manuals’ tell us that generally queens in their first year don’t swarm, but we will be vigilant just in case they decide to not follow the manuals. Bees can’t read, so often don’t do what the text books say they will.
We ARE a little concerned however, at seeing some bees with twisted wings and at the level of varroa mite drop. Varroa are nasty, NASTY, little parasitic mites that live off bees, weakening their defences by sucking their blood and making them more susceptible to infections. Getting rid of, or at least controlling, these pesky mites is really essential.
There are quite a few ways of controlling varroa, either with chemicals (dangerous if done incorrectly) or mechanically, such as sacrificing drone cells (the male bees cells). The mites like slighty bigger drone cells to hatch in, so some people cut out drone cells with the grubs in- to break the life cycle. But this is icky and, well. EWWWW. and sad..
Another way is to encourage the bees to groom more, thus dislodging the mites, which then fall onto the floor of the beehive. Newer style hives have a mesh floor with a tray, which means you can clear out and keep an eye on how many varroa are falling out. To encourage grooming some beekeepers sprinkle icing sugar on the bees….but we have something better….
…………………………….. something different …… The Bee Gym!
This is a clever an invention by an English beekeeper who thought noticed that his bees looked really uncomforable with a varroa stuck to them concocted a little fishing wire ‘trap’ at the entrance to the hive to encourage the bees to crawl through and dislodge the little varroa ****ers.
He was surprised to see his bees queuing up to go through the ‘trap’ over and over and realised, the bees didn’t need to be co-erced, they WANTED something to scratch against to dislodge the mites.
So he came up with a little mini ‘grooming’ station or scratching post, with different flippers, wires and nodules that the bees can rub themselves on, thus dislodging the adult mites, which then fall to the floor of the hive. Which disrupts the life cycle of the varroa, – which equals happier, healthier bees!
We put a bee gym in our hive a week or so ago, and we can safely say, that they are really enjoying it… See??
(they didn’t like me taking pics of them using it, so please excuse the blurry pic!)
Ideally we would have been really scientific and counted the mite drop into the tray each day to monitor whether over time there were less and less mites being scraped off and falling through the floor, but unfortunately we both have full time jobs and it’s been iffy weather , which means that we have not been able to be out looking at the hive every day. But we can say that the hive is looking good, and every time we have done an inspection, there have been bees actively using the bee gym.
So we’re hoping that despite our lack of scientific observation, our colony will follow suite on what other (more scientificly observed) colonies have reported, which is a significant drop in mite numbers to what – we hope- will end up being that our beehive has the mites ‘under control’ . We know we can’t eradicate the mites, but just like head lice on ourselves, if properly managed, they are not too much of a pest.