Greetings, fellow beekeepers.
By the time this message reaches you, fire season will be upon us and in many locations it will be prudent to consider other options than a smoker to work our bees. During fire season in dry locations, we rely on an essential oil “spritz” to calm the bees if we need to. The drench formula on Honey B Healthy or Prohealth applied with a basic garden sprayer is sufficient to calm the bees enough to do basic hive manipulations and introduce queens, and you will sleep very well at night knowing that there is no way an errant spark from your smoker started a wildfire.
Here at Old Sol, every truck has a 3-gallon sprayer of our custom spritz formula and at least some modest fire-fighting tools such as a shovel, a bucket of water, and a fire extinguisher. As we have all witnessed the last few years, the fire season seems to be getting longer and more intense. I would hate for it ever to be one of us beekeepers who has gotten the “big one” going. Working all summer in heavy smoke takes a toll on the bees and beekeepers, even with a mask. Please be careful out there and take every precaution possible. I don’t know how many dozens of stories I have heard about a smoker mishap leading to a conflagration.
July is also a magic month for getting assessment and control of your Varroa populations. In the old days, we used to wait until August to pull honey supers and begin our battle with Varroa. Better to sacrifice a little honey flow than to put overwintering your colonies at risk. If mite loads are unacceptably high in July, the bees will really begin to fall apart by August and there is not much time left in the season to bring them around. It is absolutely amazing what that extra month can do to help bees recover from Parasitic Mite Syndrome, so please sample for Varroa early and often. We have learned to never assume any treatment has worked as advertised and to do post-treatment sampling to remove all doubt about efficacy. Even when we have done our job right, we still face substantial risk of reinfection in this crucial season because the bees become more prone to robbing both collapsing wild and unmanaged colonies in the neighborhood. Invariably, they bring something nasty back home.
With each passing day, the hours of daylight will be becoming shorter and the window is rapidly closing to get our bees ready for winter. It may seem counterintuitive to think about winter in July, but our bees have been thinking about it since early spring as they hoard their precious stores in preparation for winter. As of July 1, there are only 124 days until November 1. This means there are only about six 21-day brood cycles left at the very most until the bees shut down egg laying for the winter. As these brood cycles progress, the amount of eggs laid in each one will be less and less as the days shorten and flows diminish, so try to not let Varroa devour your bees for half of the remaining brood cycles before we start raising clean, healthy, long-lived winter bees. We will be well served to be like the bee and plan for next year now.
Speaking of being like a bee and planning for the future, please consider registering your apiary. The 50 cents per colony fee will really help fund honey bee research at Oregon State University and help us meet the current and future challenges our industry faces. If we all do our little part and collaborate with our resources, we can achieve great things together, just like the bees do. The beehive is like an intensive information-gathering machine. It is accurate information that the colony depends on for its very survival.
Bees can detect the slightest differences in sugar concentration of various nectars available in their forage radius and allocate foragers accordingly to increase the odds of storing enough honey to overwinter. There is also a constant flow of information going on about the various exact locations of forage options. Information is also gathered and disseminated about where to swarm to, including nest-cavity location and size. This has been well studied, and it is known that the “about to swarm” colony will commonly review a dozen or more options and compare information about each option and eventually build consensus around the best option. According to Dr Seeley’s work, the bees seem to naturally prefer about a 40-liter cavity, with a 12.5-square-centimeter entrance facing south, at the bottom of the cavity about 5 meters off the ground. Interestingly, disruption of this flow of information is a great way to cool off a colony on the verge of swarming by moving the colony while the scout bees are flying and placing a split or small colony in its place.
For us beekeepers, accurate information is also crucial to our success. Whether it is timely and accurate, mite counts or state-of-the-art research, both can provide essential information that increases our success rates. Please consider donating to the OSU Honey Bee Lab and registering your apiary. Working together like this, we can have profound effects on outcomes.
Happy Beekeeping and stay cool.