Yesterday I ordered four packages of bees and two queens. For me its always exciting to begin looking forward to the coming season and ordering new bee stock kinda gets the juices flowing. It’s also expensive and a strong reminder of the previous years loses. That’s where the queens I ordered come in, but more on that in a moment.
I ordered four, 2 pound packages of bees from Glory Bee in Eugene. Two packages will contain Carniolans or Carnys as I call them and two packages of Italians. The Italians are supposed to be a little more productive and a little more winter hardy, but that has not really been my experience. The Carnys always seem so mellow and are quite productive. They are my favorites but the Italian is a good bee also.
The bees I ordered will come from California and arrive in mid-April. I considered ordering bees from Ruhl Bee in Gladstone because they are slightly cheaper, but I cannot get marked queens there so I went with Glory Bee. Marked queens have a dab of paint on them that makes them easier to find. The bees from Ruhl are produced in the valley, somewhere outside of Portland. No matter where you get them, they will come with mites. Mites can kill a hive and it is a never ending battle to deal with them.
So new beekeepers just starting out are faced with a decision. The traditional way of treating mites has been with chemicals. There are a lot of names for them but basically you are placing an insecticide within the hive to kill the mites. There are ways to manage honey production to limit its exposure to these chemicals, but I made the decision this is not for me.
Over a decade ago some beekeeepers around the country went cold turkey with no treatments. They lost nearly all their hives, but used the survivors to rebuild with. The Survivors had a trait that allowed them to fight back against the mites that most bees dont have. Since then breeding programs have sprung up in an attempt to produce bees that are mite resistant. Dont misunderstand, there is no silver bullet, but there have definately been improvements and many of the new hybrids are becoming quite successful at fighting back against mites.
Just one example – a fella I spoke with on the phone in Nebraska told me he thought his hives were being robbed by other bees because when a bee would land on the front of the hive, before entering it was attacked by the guard bees. Upon closer inspection he learned that the guard bees were removing mites that came riding in on the backs of the bees traveling outside of the hive. There are other traits the bees have to control mites, but the point is new hybrids are being developed that have become quite good at dealing with mites. I have decided to go “treatment free” and work to develope strains of bees that can fight off the mites on their own without the help of treatments.
Bring in the Queen – This is why I have ordered queens that will arrive in July. They come from a breeding program that has developed bees which are winter hardy and mite resistant.
In July, after my packages are well established, I will remove the queens that came with the package and replace them with the new queens. This is why I wanted queens that come with the packages marked. The goal is to develope my own bees to be strong enough to deal with our winters and our mites so that I do not have to purchase bees at all. The new queens will lay eggs containing the genetic material that makes them tough against winter weather and mites. In the summer time bees only live for 6 weeks or so, therefore by Sept all the bees in the hive will be from the new queen.
ONE MORE THING – Yesterday I also fed the bees. Unlike feeding the bears, it is perfectly acceptable to feed the bees. I’m considering a petting zoo, but have yet to run it past my insurance people.
On a serious note, I think its clear that part of the reason bees in central oregon struggle to make it through the winter is our light pollen flow in the fall. Pollen contains the proteins and amino acids the bees require to remain healthy throughout the winter. I believe one of the issues the bees face during the winter is having a large enough store of pollen to remain healthy. So yesterday I placed some pollen feed inside the remaining hive I have. I got a quick look inside too and the hive looks very healthy. Lots of bees and plenty of honey. Only looked at a couple of frames because you dont want to have the hive open for long in cool weather. (was 55 out when I opened it up) From the little I saw things look good and I am hopeful this hive makes it the next few months. Just a couple more months and we will get our first flowers blooming. It is so close, yet so far. I wanted to help out by making sure they had the pollen they need. With a little luck I will have a hive that has wintered and will pull some splits out of this spring to create at least one new hive from bees that have demonstrated they can winter and survive the mites.