17SEP2022 – OCF Update – This’N’That

Busy day.  Had lots of yard work to get ready for the end of warm weather.  I even cut the grass today.  I didn’t notice how long the grass had grown on account of all that rain.  Man, what a mess the clippings made.  But soon enough all that will be done with.   It was nice to get out and look around the fields.  There were tons of honey bees on the goldenrod.  Now that I’ve renewed my interest in keeping bees, I was looking at the varieties of bees that were on the flowers.  And I noticed they were almost exclusively Italian bees.  These are a southern bee and they don’t fare well in cold winter areas.  But they’re the kind of bees that people get when they buy a package of bees from one of the big breeders down south.  So most likely these bees aren’t feral bees but some beekeeper’s hive.

Funny, I got a little annoyed that someone was encroaching on my goldenrod.  What the what!  The only advantage of the Italian bees is their mild tempers.  They’re the least likely race of bees to sting you even if you’re in their nest messing around with the frames full of honey and brood.  So, knowing there are a lot of apiary hives around me was a little bit of a downer.  I’m hoping to catch a swarm next spring.  But if there are a lot of apiary hives in the area chances are that the swarm will come from one of them.  That means the bees will be southern bees and most probably also bees that have been living under a regimen of chemicals to ward off varroa mites and other plagues.  I won’t be using those chemicals so the bees will have to depend on their natural robustness to survive.  But since they’ve been dosed with various chemicals, they may be quite weak.

That makes me think that I may as well purchase a bee package from a breeder who keeps northern bees under a natural beekeeping regimen.  I know there are several breeders in Vermont who have this type of bee.  I’ve read about these northern bees.  They’re known either as Russian bees or dark bees.  They are extremely cold hardy and are specialized to collecting a large amount of nectar in order to survive the long cold northern winter.  Of course, that might mean a very long drive back and forth to Northern Vermont.  That’s a hike.  It’s possible they’ll mail the bees but maybe not.  Anyway, interesting things to think about today.

While I was working on the garden, I saw both grasshoppers and katydids that were so worn out that I was able to go up to them and pick them up by the wing covers.

Even the few butterflies I saw, some fritillaries and painted ladies, were flying very slowly.  And they were much less skittish than normally when I approached them while they fed.  Of vertebrates, there were some turkeys in the yard, a few small frogs and a vole that shot out of the garden and headed into the blueberry bushes when I approached.  I managed to get some shots of the turkeys as they noticed me and retreated into the forest.

Then I walked over by the swamp.  It was looking very beat up.

But this time of the year has its charms.  A good day out in the air.

Honey Bees at the Compound


Anyone who has looked at my macro-photographic pictures knows that I like to photograph insects in general and bees in particular.  I find them interesting.

About 25 years ago I established a honey bee hive in my yard.  I did all the things that the books said to do.  I bought the packaged bees with the included queen and installed them in the approved hive with its rack of frames and other accoutrements.  I had the bee suit and the smoker and I fed them syrup and checked on them every once in a while, and they seemed to thrive.  And even though New England winters are awful they survived into the next year and seemed to be thriving.  But after the second winter they were all dead.

This was disappointing.  But I persevered and started all over.  A new hive, new bees and away we went.  But this time they were dead by the next spring.  I read up on what had happened.  Tracheal mites and varroa mites had become the scourge of beekeeping.  Hives were dying off by the thousands.  Eventually chemical treatments became the “solution” for keeping honey bees alive in the Age of Varroa.

But I was unwilling to keep bees that needed to be loaded with poison to survive.  Beyond the question of whether honey produced by semi-poisoned bees was safe or appetizing I just didn’t see the sense in raising creatures that were incapable of surviving on their own.  But I kept an ear open hoping for an announcement of the discovery of bees that were resistant to varroa mite infestation.  Decades passed and I lost track of the whole thing.

But this week I watched a YouTube video by a beekeeper up in Vermont named Kirk Webster (how’s that for a New England name!) who has been raising bees without medication for twenty years.  It was very interesting.  So, this Webster guy lost lots of his bees in the varroa mite plague.  And earlier he lost lots of hives to the previous tracheal mite outbreak.  But apparently, the surviving hives had better genetics and their descendants were able to thrive in the environment that contained these parasites.

And it seemed a big part of the answer had to do with Mr. Webster’s embrace of natural selection.  By allowing the mites to eliminate the weaker hives the stronger bees became the basis of his new stock and they thrived.  And possibly part of that selection was a race of Russian bees that he had adopted during that time.  Possibly bees that had been exposed to the enormous range of climates and fauna found in the vast Eurasian continent gave them a distinct advantage over the European bees.

Well, I warned Camera Girl that sometime in the indeterminate future she might see me walking around the grounds wearing a bee suit.  She shook her head and went back to preparing food for tomorrow’s party while mumbling disparaging remarks about someone or other.  Well, not everyone is as enlightened and innovative as some other people.  But the takeaway is that there are definitely beekeepers who have found success with keeping bees without dousing their hives with insecticides and poisons.  Something for me to think about.