I mailed a small plastic container of dead bees to the ARS (USDA Agricultural Research Service) Bee Research Lab in Beltsville, Maryland on January 14 and have been waiting for the results. Our new president slowed things down by telling the ARS they could not communicate directly with the public. That made me so mad that I took part in a demonstration for the first time in my life. Thankfully, some of that nonsense has now been lifted and I received the PCR results in my e mail today.
It turns out my bees were infected with Nosema, which is a fungal disease, to the tune of 61.5 million spores per bee. They also had 5.3 Varroa destructor mites per one hundred bees. Together, they had no chance.
What I don’t know, is why the Apivar Miticide strips I applied on August 22 did not kill the mites. Hive number 2 did not get treated until Sept 29, and I removed the strips in that hive after only 37 days, instead of the 50 they should have remained, but the other 5 hives all had the strips for 53 days. It should have worked.
I have no idea why they got Nosema but there does not seem to be a good treatment for that. I am not sure what I will have to do to disinfect the two dead-out hives stacked on my porch. They are full of honey, which might possibly harbor Nosema. I was hoping to use them to start new hives with in the spring but do not want to infect the next batch. I can do a heat treatment but am wondering how to prevent melting all the honey and wax together. I have a small greenhouse that may be able to get up to the required 120 degrees F for 24 hours but I will have to monitor it closely as beeswax melts at 144 degrees.
A 50/50 bleach water solution can disinfect empty combs and wooden ware. Maybe I will have to remove the honey from the frames so I can reuse them the combs.
Guess I will be experimenting yet again.
Who needs a science based job when my whole life seems to be an experiment?
Please, let the other four hives be healthy. I am doing all I can.
For the Martin Luther King weekend we drove 3 hours out to our cabin in Pendleton County, West Virginia, taking our granddaughter Vivian with us. The weather has been so dreary for the past week, with grey, drizzly skies and temperatures stuck in the 40’s that we figured we’d mostly stay inside and play games. We had been hoping for some snow to play in. I usually prefer relaxing with a good book to board games but games geared to a six year old are easy enough to handle, in between chapters.
All day Saturday and then again on Sunday, we played board games; Community, Gathering the Garden, Snakes and Ladders, Quirkle, and Trouble. In between we all read or listened on our Kindles. I stoked the fire, tore out and rewound my old knitting, cooked and read a book but eventually the fog lifted, it stopped raining, and I had to get outside.
Wet Dry Run and a Movie
Dry Run was full of water for a change, so Vivian and I headed down the hill to check out the dam we had built last year. We had spent hours playing in the creek together, and our thrown up berm of rocks was still mostly intact. We can look forward to rebuilding the small breach when the weather turns nice in the spring. I wish the creek ran all the time but with all the limestone around here, it sinks into cave-y places pretty quick.
We kept walking down the paved road, past the big spring where the town of Franklin gets their water. This spring never dries up and there is a cement holding pond for them to draw from. The county ran 5 miles of pipe to carry this spring water into Franklin back in the 1960’s when the Hanover Shoe Factory was built out on Thorn Spring Road, and in the flood of 1985, they had to replace 5000 feet of it, as well as dig all the rock debris out of the spring.
Our place is located uphill from this spring so we collect rain from our roof into an underground cistern for our water at the cabin. So close, yet so far away… No complaints, it works fine for our needs.
Continuing on our walk, we turned onto the hardly ever used, dirt lane that leads to an old hilltop meadow. We branched off at a 4 wheel drive track , back towards our hill, and then again onto the old logging road. This scenic route is much longer, but not near as steep a climb, as our driveway. Short legs only grumbled a little. It was a pretty long walk for her. We checked out lots of cool fossil rocks on the way as we followed the zig-zagging log trails back down the steep hillside to home.
Saturday night we had introduced Vivian to the first Harry Potter Movie, which went over pretty well. She did not get too scared and we were looking forward to the second one tonight. There is no TV reception at the cabin but we enjoy watching DVD’s curled up on the couch by the wood stove. Wine and cookies work too.
Reeds Creek Fish Hatchery
Monday, after eating a yummy lunch at the Fireside Cafe in Franklin, we drove out to Reeds Creek Fish Hatchery. They grow trout to stock the lakes and rivers in West Virginia, using (and reusing) water from a huge spring. There are long, open concrete tanks set in the ground with a constant supply of cold spring water flowing through the thousands of fish. The fish are grouped by size and some of them are huge. The Golden Trout are the most fun because they are the easiest to see.
The other trout we saw were dark, with spots, but I am not sure if they were Brook, Rainbow or Brown trout. When they see you coming they all start moving fast and jumping, expecting to be fed. Notice the dark one in the above photo with his mouth wide open. Visitors are not allowed to feed or touch the fish, but the hatchery gate is open until 3:30 in the afternoon and it is fun to watch them. When their fins breach the surface it looks like a whole bunch of little sharks.
It looks like a great place to find dinner if you are a Heron or an Eagle and I don’t know how they manage to keep them out. When we were there we didn’t see any dogs or anybody to ask. They were probably out stocking the rivers.
It is too bad that no one has built an Aquaponics greenhouse using the water from this hatchery. It would be a great way to make use of the nutrient rich water before it joins the creek. It is probably too far to a market where they could sell the produce, though. Someone would have to do a lot of driving.
Our three Mallard ducklings learned to fly over their fence this summer. They practiced short hops every morning for a few weeks, managing to get a few feet off the ground each time. Luckily the chickens did not take notes. When the ducks first managed to fly over the top of the four foot electric fence, they circled the back pasture twice, soaring higher each pass. Then they were gone. I was worried I might never see them again, but the drake and his favorite hen came flying back a couple hours later. As the sun started to set, I was feeling bad about the other hen being left out there all alone somewhere. It seemed like the pair had deliberately tried to lose the other hen. We were sitting out on the porch when we noticed her walking up the driveway. I went out to greet her and she flew back into the pen on her own. Lots of quacking ensued from all three of them as they reunited in the barn.
Since then, all three ducks have stayed close to home. They loved to splash around in the 20 gallon horse trough we keep inside the fence, but then they discovered the much larger water garden. Now they can’t wait to be let out in the morning for their morning bath. They waddle out through the chicken door and fly just high enough to clear the fence, skidding into a smooth water landing.
Muddy Waters and Hard Landings
I was initially afraid they would muddy up the water garden too much but the dirty water isn’t so bad. I love watching the ducks play around in the waterfall and bobbing upside down with their butts in the air. The poor frogs have learned to scurry for cover and dive deep to hide from their probing bills. We probably had too many frogs in there anyway.
You should have seen the first time the ducks came in for a landing when the pond was frozen solid. The poor things landed kind of hard and slid clear to the end, their wings spread and feet scrambling. They had a whole lot to say about that. They kept quacking and circling the pond trying to figure out what had happened. Now, when it’s cold, they land on the lawn and walk over to check it first. They are so disappointed when they can’t have their morning swim.
Ducks In, Foxes Out
The three ducks wander around the property snuffling through the grass, talking to each other the whole time. They make a lot more noise than the chickens. I like the squeaks and mews and quacks I hear as they circle the house. In the late afternoon, they fly back into the fenced in area and put themselves to bed, tucked in next to each other on the floor of the chicken house. Every now and then I will need to herd them in, especially if I want to do chores early. They are good about waddling along in front of me as I walk them to their door.
So far, the foxes have not taken advantage of them wandering around loose. Hopefully the ducks will take off fast enough to escape if one gets near them while they are out. The electric poultry fence has been doing a great job of keeping everybody behind it safe so far. I know the foxes are still coming around at night. The wildlife camera caught one getting zapped on the nose when he touched the fence. That was gratifying.
Ducks Lay Eggs Too
I wasn’t really figuring on the ducks producing daily eggs like chickens, but up until last week I was getting one or two every day. The ducks lay their eggs in a hay covered nest on the floor of the chicken house. I have to search for their new hiding place every few days and am surprised by the number of eggs they lay. Their shells are harder than the chicken eggs and the whites clearer. My customers love when I include one or two duck eggs in a carton, especially since I have not been charging extra. In the store I have seen them for $6 a dozen, but they don’t cost me more to feed since they free range so much.
Now that I have the chickens and ducks trained to drink from the nipple waterers, the shared pen stays much cleaner. Ducks like to slurp and splash water everywhere. I think the chickens appreciate the cleaner drinking water too.
January 11, 2017
The weather has warmed up to 54 degrees F today, warm enough to open my six bee hives and do a thorough check. I still have syrup top feeders on them, with the vents mostly sealed with duct tape, and pollen patties. I hope to not find too many dead bees in January.
Hive 1. Heavy with honey stores, some syrup left in the top feeder and some pollen patty between boxes, the bees happily moving about in a loose cluster near the middle. I used a stick to clean a few dead bees off the bottom board and closed it back up. So far so good.
Hive 2. This hive greets me with total silence. Dead bees are sitting along the tops of frames, others are in groups with their faces buried in cells, and then there are 3 inches of freshly killed bees laying on the bottom. I am horrified and disgusted and mad. It is so aggravating to do everything I can to keep them alive and still have them die on me.
Hive 3. Sounds and looks Ok with plenty of stores and the bees near the middle.
Hive 4. Plenty of honey, pollen patty, and bees but they are all in the top box, so I switch the bottom box to the top, clean off the bottom board and seal them back up. Bees like to move up, not down, so I am giving them room to do that.
Hive 5. Dead quiet. A few frames have patches of dead bees with their faces pushed into cells but the entire bottom of the hive is covered in three inches of dead bees. I am again mad and frustrated. I feed them, buy them new queens, treat them for mites and am repaid by them dying anyway. I don’t get it.
Hive 6. Feels nice and heavy, still has some pollen patty and syrup and the bees are hanging around as a loose mass. After cleaning off the bottom board, I closed them back up, relieved that four hives have made it.
Two Hives Dead and Four Left
It is only the middle of January and I have lost two of my six hives already. Winter has not arrived in earnest yet. It makes no sense to me that these bees have died surrounded by plenty of food. I pull off my gloves, hang up my bee jacket and call my bee guru, Ed Forney.
He asks how I’m doing and I tell him, “Well, I was better before I opened my hives and found two dead outs already. “
I tell him about the three inch deep mass of dead bees in the bottom and he says,
“Sounds like they must have gotten into something, maybe some kind of pesticide.”
“Seriously? What could they possibly get into this time of year? “
I wonder if it is possible that the farm across the road, recently replanted to wheat, might have been sprayed to kill the weeds first.
“If there were low growing weeds blooming in there when he sprayed, your bees could have been hit by that.”
Herbicides aren’t supposed to kill bees but something certainly did.
I am hesitant to call up Neil, who farms across from me, and ask if he sprayed anything recently. I don’t want to sound accusatory or make him feel threatened, I just want to know what might have killed my bees. He told me earlier this year that he would let me know in advance if he needed to spray any insecticides and that he doesn’t usually need to. This kind of conversation is better done in person. Phone calls can be like E- mails and Facebook sometimes- you can’t read the persons face and body language- so things can come across differently than you intend them to. He is a nice guy and I know he does not want to kill my bees. I need a good old, foot-on-the- bumper kind of talk with him, out in the tractor shed, just trading stories.
Storing Hives With No Bees
I have to deal with the two dead hives yet, so I go back out to the bee yard to retrieve the two dead-outs. I load them, so nice and heavy with honey stores, into the wagon and pull them up to the porch to clean them up. The piles of dead bees seem so fresh, almost alive. I scoop them up with my hands to put in a bucket to feed the chickens. They are so beautiful that I retrieve a magnifying glass from the kitchen to get a closer look. It is not often that honeybees are still enough to study up close. Then I see one moving. She is not dead yet. They are so freshly dead that this one is still dying. I grab my camera and take some close up photos, thinking maybe I will be able to see better with the zoom. Maybe I can learn something.
That is when I remember that the USDA Bee Lab in Beltsville will analyze bee and comb samples you send to them. I go back in the house to Google them and then search the house for isopropyl alcohol and a shallow plastic container to hold a handful of bees. Maybe they can figure out what killed my bees.
After getting back from the Post Office I get back into clean up mode on the two hives, scraping off and saving the excess wax and flicking dead bees off the frames. Some of the bees are wedged face first into combs and I have to pinch their tiny butts and pull them out, without squishing them. I can’t get them all and hope that’s Ok. I will be using these frames of honey to help rebuild new hives in the spring if all goes well-unless the USDA finds there is some horrible disease lurking in there.
Sealing Up Stored Hives
To keep my four boxes (2 from each dead hive) safely stored until I need them, I need to stack them up and treat them with ParaMoth. I learned the hard way just how destructive Wax Moths can be a couple of years ago when I tried to store another dead hive. Moths will get in there and dig deep trenches in the wooden walls of the hives and eat through the wax , letting all the honey drip out on the floor, while they chew up all the wax. I can’t afford to loose drawn comb, honey and expensive wooden ware to them again.
I start the storage stack by placing a lid upside down on the porch floor. This will seal off the bottom. Then I add an empty deep box, moving the frames into it one by one as I clean excess wax and dead bees off. I have three other frames of honey saved from earlier this summer that I add to the stack. I end up with a stack five boxes tall, and on the top frames I lay a paper plate with 6 Tablespoons of the ParaMoth crystals, then the top lid, weighted down with bricks. The stack will freeze which will kill any Small Hive Beetles (SHB) and the fumes from the ParaMoth will kill any moths.
I told Ed on the phone that I was giving my bees until August to start paying me back for all the money and hard work I have put into them and he assured me that he would help me with that. He is going to show me how to set up two of the hives for serious honey production and two for back up population and comb builders. The stored honey and brood frames should really help out with starting some new hives in the spring from splits off my over wintered bees.