Saturday, September 19, 2020

Donkey Days of Summer

I met Elvis Opris, the owner of Brothers Honey Company,, in his bee yard, and we started our day early with a breakfast of coffee and graham crackers on the tailgate of my truck. As I lit the smoker, a pair of donkeys, guardians of the farm’s livestock, invited themselves to join in on eating our graham crackers. After the harvest of the summer’s honey, it was time to perform a thorough inspection of the bee hives and start any needed treatments for parasitic mites. As with all hive inspections, we checked for obvious hive diseases and evidence that each hive had a prolific egg-laying queen. In the late summer and early fall seasons, queens lay fewer eggs, and bee populations begin a slight decline. Parasitic varroa mite populations, however, reach their annual maximum. It is important that beekeepers determine the number of mites in the hives and treat the hives if their mite loads exceed recommended thresholds. Information on testing methods, treatment thresholds, and appropriate mite treatments are found on the Honey Bee Health Coalition’s website, Many of the available mite treatments have restrictions on their use. For example, to prevent contamination of honey by chemical treatments, most cannot be used when honey supers are on the hives. Some treatments have temperature restrictions, and need to be applied in the fall with cooler temperatures.


We measured the mite loads on hives that had stayed on the farm throughout the year using an alcohol-wash test and found varroa at close to the treatment threshold. Other hives that had been moved to another location for honey production returned in weakened conditions with a large percentage of colonies dead. We measured these surviving hives and found mite loads above the treatment thresholds, so we applied a treatment to all hives. We will measure the mite loads again during the fall to see if the treatments brought the mites below recommended thresholds. I suspect that the donkeys will expect graham crackers.