We checked in on the hives last week. This winter we lost Anna Karenina and Lara. Lolita is doing alright.
In looking through the hives, we inspected each bar closely and took lots of notes. It’s not clear to us exactly why the two hives didn’t survive the winter. Starvation of the hive during overwintering is a big concern. For this reason, and not knowing how much honey the hives would need, we left the bees with all their accumulated honey reserves. We were unable to locate a remaining brood nest in Lara. There were a few unhatched brood cells in Anna, but they were in close proximity to honey reserves.
We did find a few varroa mites in Lara’s hive. Varroa mites are a parasite that attacks both adult bees and the developing brood, weakening the hive. It is common for beekeepers to treat hives to control varroa mite outbreaks. This treatment most typically involves using an insecticide to attack the mites. Trouble is, bees are insects too. We do not and will not treat our bees with miticides, medicine, or synthetic chemicals. Continuously treating hives perpetuates weak bees. Instead we will encourage bees to grow healthy, evolve to be strong and naturally resistant.
Russian Carnolians (our bees) are a variety that have been bred to be naturally resistant to varroa mites – We would like to replace these two hives. We’ve checked into ordering nukes, but they are extremely hard to come by, as everyone is suffering losses especially this year. Our best bet may be to keep our eyes open and try capturing a local swarm (please let us know if you find a swarm, we’ll come pick it up).
On warm days, we had been watching bees go in and out of all three hives. It turns out, Lolita’s hive has been poaching honey reserves from the other two unoccupied hives. Anna and Lara both have several full honey combs. We’re feeling pretty blue about the loss of Anna and Lara. But also pretty damn proud of Lolita, she’s proven resilient and resourceful.
Jeremy and Marcus (mainly Marcus) have been toiling on completing the deer fence around the orchard area. We’ve ordered bare root fruit trees which will be arriving soon and, with the number of deer we have, a fence will be essential to giving these little trees a chance at survival. The fence posts are leftovers from the hop trellising we set up last spring, the posts are set in 3.5′ holes. On the west end of our field, the delicious valley top soil stops at about 1′ and meets with a hardpan clay layer, sometimes gravel. In order to power through this, Jeremy and Marcus are soaking holes to soften the clay. Because there is no access to water back there, Jeremy built a smart Bicycle Bucket Brace with which he can carry four 5-gallon buckets of water from the pump out to the field. This will also serve useful this summer when we are watering trees.
Some random notes: Calendula seeds are my new most favorite seed as they bear striking resemblance to ogre toenails. Totally gnarly. Jeremy and I have found drilling holes for native pollinator habitat to be very therapeutic in light of our recent loss. And I’m trying to salvage some Dester tomato seeds “saved” from last season. The rotten tomato mush got neglected in a yogurt container for too long and may have prematurely germinated or rotted the seed, we’ll see.
Here are a few photos from our preparation 500, many thanks to friends at Meadowlark Hearth Farm in Scottsbluff, NE.
And it’s official: the first vulture of spring is here.