How Quickly It Can All Go South

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It’s hard to believe……..well…..maybe not too hard to believe.

Let me start again.

It’s not hard to believe that this tiny little honey bee…..yep…….the exact one in the photo……..could COMPLETELY turn our home upside down. For those of you who want to play along, the key words in the previous sentence are honey bee and home.  Yep…you guessed it!  Somehow……someway…..this particular honey bee got into our home last night and caused quite the kerfuffle.  Well…I have to be honest….I actually let her in……… by mistake.  It was dark outside, somehow she never made it back to her hive and she became attracted to the light inside our home. I thought I shooed her away from the sliding glass door, but……….. I guess……. I didn’t.

Well, ……….I knew I didn’t when I saw the cat (it’s kinda’ in between a kitten and a cat) go from a dead sleep on the couch to a stealth predator in 1.6 seconds.  All of a sudden, there’s a bee swirling around in a lampshade and our cat  (Marty) pouncing on the lamp shade.  Dutiful Son, no longer transfixed by whatever he was viewing on his laptop, spouts off that the cat’s gonna’ get stung.  Before I could grab the cat, the honey bee exited the lamp shade, headed over to the bright computer screen and ………..WHAMMOO.  Marty successfully captured the honey bee in his…………..mouth.  Before I knew it, the cat let out a blood-curdling meoooooooooowwwww, shook his head from side to the side, and opened his mouth.  Out flew the honey bee and that’s……………………………..when it all went south.

“He’s stung….He’s stung!” cried Dutiful Son.

“Who’s stung?” shrieked Beloved Wife.

“The cat!” yelled Dutiful Son.

“My cat?????????????” cried Beloved Wife.

Now…………you have to know my wife to understand her affection towards this cat.  She’s not one of those “crazy cat ladies”, but she does register somewhere in the general vicinity.  Needless to say, she loves this cat.  I mean…REALLY LOVES HIM! I hear her talkin’ to him throughout the day, pampering him with treats and toys and generally……….just doting on  him when he’s not sleeping those other 22 hours in a day.  It kinda’ reminds me of the way she was when are kids were small.

“Oh my God……..Oh my God…..what do we do???????????????????  she cried.

And…..before you knew it……Dutiful Son was tapping on that damn lap top keyboard………..pushing the panic meter towards the “red zone”.

“Dad………you gotta’ check his tongue. You gotta’ check if the stinger is in there.   You gotta’ see if his tongue is swelled and turning blue”.

” I’m not stikkin’ my fingers in there! I said.  Look at him.  Look at those eyes and those turned back ears.  Can’t you see how cheesed  he is right now?”

“Oh my God……….Oh my God!  Can he breath? Can he breath? screamed Beloved Wife.  “Who knows CPR?  Is the side of his face getting bigger?  Oh my God…I think it is getting bigger!”………………..

And before you knew it……….everything was COMPLETELY out of control.

As it turned out…..calmer heads did prevail and I successfully managed to push the panic meter back from the red zone. Marty’s face didn’t get any bigger and he resumed his usual Marty self in a short period of time.  All in all…the night ended on a positive note.  Marty learned that a honey bee may not be the wisest choice for a late night snack.  Dutiful son hopefully learnt that his helpful information really just helped his mom reach a new “personal best” in the panic department and I………..well I didn’t have to try and perform CPR on a cat.

Hopefully, tomorrow night we’ll return to our “norm” and Marty will be curled up on the couch between Beloved Wife and myself as we watch the Blue Jays try to win another baseball game!  And hopefully, just hopefully,…..every honey bee will decide to find their way back to the hive!

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Unwanted Hitchhikers In My Hives

Varroa Mites

It’s hard to believe, but these tiny bugs  are one of the leading causes to the honey bee’s demise.  They are about the size of a pin head, are named Varroa Destructor and…….I’ve got ’em in my hives.  These little buggers attach themselves to a honey bee, weaken the bee as they suck their blood and pass on various viruses as a parting gift to the bee.  If not controlled, the mites will eventually take down the entire colony.

The varroa mite was nowhere to be found in North America before the 1980s.  Though it was firmly entrenched in Europe and Asia, bee keepers in North America had no issues with this parasite before this time.  According to the old-timers, “pre-varroa” was a great time to be a beekeeper on our continent.  Nobody knew what Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) was and the honey bee and the beekeeper generally flew under everybody’s radar.

Fast forward 30 years later and we’re in a totally different boat.  Harsh chemicals have failed to be the answer to the demise of varroa as these parasites continue to wreak havoc for most beekeepers.  So……what’s a beekeeper suppose to do?

Option #1: Do nothing and hope that the bees figure out how to over-run these parasites. This hasn’t proven to be too effective for most backyard beekeepers, though certain people in the industry claim that they now have varroa resistant bees.

Option #2: Treat the hives with harsh miticide chemicals to kill the varroa.  This also hasn’t proven to be that effective  since the mite has learned to become resistant to these insecticides.  Not to mention that the residue from a lot of these chemicals is now being found to contaminate the comb that bees use to store honey and raise new bees.

Option #3: Develop an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) system which involves adopting “safer” strategies in order to keep varroa numbers at a level that will not allow them to destroy a colony over time.  Examples of this include:

A) Using screened bottom boards which do not allow a fallen mite to re-enter a colony.

B) Culling drone brood (male bees).  This “intelligent” parasite has figured out that it can breed and suck on the bee’s bodily fluid for an extra 3 days in capped male brood rather than the female brood.  As a result, the female mite favors mating and raising new mites in the comb where male bees develop.  By opening this comb and removing the drone brood, the beekeeper also removes a lot of mites who, in turn, would mate and increase their numbers within the hive.

Culling Drone Brood

Culling Drone Brood

C) Using natural treatments like formic and oxalic acids at designated times in the year.  Formic acid is naturally found in many foods including apples, strawberries, raspberries and……….. honey.  Oxalic acid can be found in spinach, Swiss chard, beet tops and parsley.  In high concentrations, they are poisonous to humans.  This is why we do not eat rhubarb leaves.  Fortunately, these acids are also lethal to varroa mites and, when used in the right application, can really knock down the mite numbers in a hive.  Best of all, these acids have been certified as “safe” chemicals that allow the organic beekeeper to continue to consume and sell a safe edible honey.

 

As Michael Corleone said “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer”.   Varroa mites are not leaving anytime soon.  In fact, they are probably here to stay. Hence, I’ll do what I can to help my bees maintain the upper hand on this incredibly destructive pest.  It’s the least I can do to help this incredible insect!022