Thursday, March 1, 2018

MARCH 1st APIARY CHECK by beekeeper Fred

This article describes how I and some close beekeeping friends keep our bees.  These methods may or may not work for you or fit with your beekeeping philosophy. 

Those three warm days at the end of February were wonderful.  I enjoyed seeing many bees taking advantage of the warm temperatures to take cleansing flights.  The lengthening period of daylight should have also triggered the queens to begin laying by now.   Since the start of brood raising can result in hive starvation if the cluster cannot readily access food,  periodically throughout March I plan to check that all hives have sufficient readily available emergency sugar supplies.

I will be using the warmer March days to start cleaning out my deadouts in preparation for a few packages to be arriving in late April.  I will try to determine the cause of each hive’s demise.  Despite last fall’s high hopes varroa, viruses and bacteria have wreaked their havoc on my hives over this winter.   While replenishing winter feed I did see the symptoms of a Serratia Marcescens Sicaria bacterial infection (See the February 21st post in the ECWBA blog for more details on this bacterial infection.) in a few of the hives.  That’s a little discouraging after the previous two winters with good survival rates. 
 This hive had a 3 inch spacer to allow adding emergency sugar discs.  The blanket is on top of the sugar to minimize air movement and absorb moisture.  These dead bees separated themselves from the cluster and climbed on top of the blanket.  This is a symptom of a serratia infection.
 Another deadout.  This feeder has a five inch diameter tube to hold the sugar disc in the center of the hive on top of the frames.  You can see the bees climbed up and away from the frames and are in piles alongside the sugar.  This behavior was only seen in deadouts.  Living hives do not have any bees in the side pockets.  Again, a serratia infection is the suspected cause. 

For those beekeepers that do not provide winter emergency feed the presence of many dead bees on the top of the inner cover is a symptom of serratia.   

As of March 1st my overall hive survival is down to a miserable 59%.   Survival by queen type is:  Saskatraz-100%, Ankle Biter-73%, Russian-59%, Local mutts-67%, and last year’s package queens-17%.  The high Saskatraz survival may be a fluke since there were only 2 Saskatraz hives in my apiary.   My initial observations are that mite resistant bee types continue to have the best survival rates and California package queens have the lowest.   (Remember these are just my observations and may not be scientifically supportable.  My apiary is too small to draw firm conclusions.)  Winter survival statistics typically run from October 1st to March31st, so I have another month to go before calculating my final survival statistics.

I have already placed queen orders so that I can change out the queens in all new packages before the end of May.  I will be installing a mix of Saskatraz, Ankle Biters and Mite Maulers in new packages. 

Serratia Marcescens Sicaria ( serratia, for short) is a bacterial infection, not a viral infection.  Initial research into this bacterial infection shows that it is also transmitted by varroa.  So the control of serratia is closely tied to the control of varroa.  In the two previous years I have only practiced varroa control in late August with MAQS and mid-September and mid-October with oxalic vapor.   I am now considering adding a spring oxalic vapor treatment, but intend to read more on the pros and cons of multiple mite treatments prior to proceeding.  Each mite treatment does entail a small related risk of killing the hive’s queen.  I have also seen some literature that shows fall mite treatments should be done as early as late July.  I will be looking at this  more closely. 

A little less than 4 weeks to the official start of spring.  Yea!

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