It has been a beautiful fall, with plenty of warm sunny days and just enough cool nights to bring out the asters, one of the primary sources of nectar in fall. When we harvest, we try to leave enough honey for the bees to get through the winter (at least two boxes of capped honey per hive), but we also count on the late-blooming sweet clover, asters, and goldenrod to help boost the honey stores after we take off the supers. A couple years ago, the asters didn’t bloom, and one of our hives starved to death before winter even set in, so now we make sure we check in earlier in the fall, while there is still time to feed any hives that are ailing.
This year, when we checked on the hives in late September, about four weeks after harvest, the boxes seemed heavy enough, and the asters have been blooming right on schedule. We have noticed lots of honeybees, bumble bees, and little butterflies on our asters in the front yard, but when we drive out in the country to check on our hives, we don’t see much that the bees can work on, which is disturbing. We just hope the bees are able to locate sources of nectar and pollen that we can’t see.
We also hope that if there really aren’t enough flowers within foraging distance of our hives that the bees have not been flying around using up energy and eating through their winter stores of honey on these warm days. We decided one day last week to go look in on the hives again, just to make sure things were all right. Sure enough, the hives felt lighter than we had remembered, and there was only a little bit of fresh nectar in the cells.
Worse still, one of the hives with a new Carniolan queen, a hive that had been strong during the summer, now appeared to be in decline. There was very little honey left, and on closer inspection, Jim discovered that many of the bees had deformed wings. It is hard to describe the ache I feel when we discover that a hive is sick. I don’t think of myself as a farmer, but when something like this happens to our hives, I can imagine how farmers must feel, after a season of good work gets wiped out overnight in a sudden hailstorm or succumbs to a virus or infestation that ruins an entire crop.
The Varroa mite is known to carry a virus that causes deformed wings, so we decided we should order some Apistan strips and treat the hives for mites, even though we did not see any mites on the brood or on the bottom board under the hive. Still, we had not treated for mites this year, so we decided it couldn’t hurt and might help. On Saturday, we headed back to the bee yard, armed with the mite strips, three gallons of sugar water, and division board feeders to insert into the hives.
The bees were relatively calm as we inspected their hives.All the drones have been pushed out of the hive by now, and the bees are getting ready for winter. Each hive had quite a bit of pollen and nectar, and all but one hive still have brood. We’ll need to keep an eye on the one to see if they still have a queen. We hope nothing has happened to her and that maybe she just quit laying eggs already.