Super Observations: Anticipating Unanticipated Consequences
by Bob Mitchell
There are several factors that influence the day-to-day activities in honey bee colonies. Some of these factors are environmental and can be managed or “changed” by beekeepers and some events are celestial, occurring by the calendar date and much more difficult for the beekeeper to alter.
Each factor will trigger a response from the colony to adapt to the new condition or situation. One of the main events that trigger a response from the colonies that beekeepers should anticipate happens to be celestial. It happens once each year and goes mostly unnoticed by beekeepers but never escapes the attention of the bee colony. It is of particular importance since the introduction of the parasitic mite Varroa destructor. That event is the summer solstice. We (both the bees and beekeepers) observe an increase in daylight length during the early days of spring.
Plants secrete nectar and pollen; the bees forage on this resource, increase in population and take the opportunity to store reserves for the anticipated time when forage will become unavailable.
Following the summer solstice, the daylight length begins to decrease, triggering a decline in the Queen’s egg laying activity. Eggs, larvae, pupae (all commonly termed “brood”) and young bees in the hive all decrease in quantity. Adding to the effect of the decreased daylight length is the summer “nectar dearth” or severe reduction of flowers that offer nutrition for the colonies. Lack of forage will exacerbate the decrease in the brood production situation.
The result of decreased brood production is of great concern to the beekeeper. In just a few weeks following the summer solstice, the population of bees in the hive will decrease, while the number of parasites (Varroa destructor) has either remained the same, or increase.
This increases the ratio of mites to bees, making the parasite population appear to “explode”. This is the time period when beekeepers need to monitor mite population levels in the colony, and determine if a parasite control/intervention is necessary. There are many miticides now labeled for use that provide very good control. Remember, use caution when making applications of mite controls, do not apply the material when honey supers are on the colonies and always read and follow label instructions.
In addition to an increased mite-to-bee ratio, loss of col ony population may lead to a lack of bees available to forage for the fall honey crop or worse, a lack of young healthy bees that will carry the colony over the winter season and into the coming spring.
This happens to be a great time to re-queen those not-so-productive colonies. Queens reared at this time of year are generally less expensive to purchase, very well mated and will produce an abundance of young, healthy bees to over winter the colony and begin the spring season. They will also be less likely to swarm next spring and the break in the brood cycle will help with the mite control efforts as well.
Items to remember: Check your mite population levels, attend the next county Delaware Beekeepers Association meeting AND be sure to volunteer for duty at the Delaware State Fair exhibit!