Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Greatest Killer

The Northeast Arkansas Beekeepers Association’s membership includes a diverse group of commercial, sideline, and hobbyist beekeepers who willingly share their experience in handling bees. The group’s conversation usually revolves around honey bee health. Meeting in Jonesboro, the discussion involved the things that kill bee hives. We talked about Varroa and tracheal mites, Nosema disease, viruses, American foulbrood, Colony Collapse Disorder, and the several other pests and pathogens that affect honey bees. Fires are a cause of concern, especially for bee yards placed in agricultural areas where fields are burned, sometimes by accident but usually as part of no-till farming practices. Windstorms damage bee yards, particularly here in “tornado alley.” Several beekeepers lost hives in spring-time flooding. Delta beekeepers who occasionally experience some water in the bottom of their hives literally lost hives; they washed away. There is universal agreement as to the number one cause of honey bee colony losses: starvation.

 Depending upon seasonal flowers for food, a honey bee colony spends most of the year in preparation for the dearth of flowers in the winter. The honey bee is unique as the only insect in the temperate region that stores food so that it may remain alive and active throughout the year. The amount of honey that the colony stores is determined by the size of the colony, the forage available, and the weather conditions. Whether the colony has enough stored honey to survive the winter often depends upon how much honey the beekeeper harvests from the hive. Experienced beekeepers, like those of Northeast Arkansas share their experience in how much honey a colony needs to survive a cold Delta winter. The pictured hive has plenty of honey for the winter. Worker bees have concentrated honey in the upper portion of the hive, the appropriate place for the bees to access the honey. Hives that are light in weight need supplemental feeding.  I lift the back of each bee hive and try to estimate its stored honey.

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