To (feed) bees, or not to (feed) bees

We mentioned in our Daily Journal the other day that we have been listening to the bee hives several times a week for some time. None of our bees overwintered last year and we have been anxious about the new colonies we established last spring. Bee hives overwinter with honey resources they are able to produce, accumulate, and store during the late summer and fall. Once they hold up come winter they are on their own until nectar flows begin in spring. People that tend bees are of diverse opinion when it comes to feeding their charges. Some supplement as the season descents into winter, some feed throughout the coldest winter months, many provide supplemental feed in early spring, and some do nothing at all. We’ve been discussing whether it is too early to begin providing supplementary feed as the hives become more active with the increasing number of warm days. We made some sugar syrup a week ago and the weather then turned colder. It was warm over the recent weekend so we put the syrup out and a few individuals found it. It has turned colder once more so I think we’ll hold off on supplementation until the warmer days become a bit more predictable. As of this past weekend I can report that all the hives were buzzing with activity.

After talking with some very experienced people and looking closely at the hives that we lost last year we concluded that our bees had fallen prey to infestation by the Varroa mite. Varroa is thought to be a contributing factor to CCD or colony collapse disorder. In any event, once that determination had been made we were up against a very difficult management decision. Without years of selective breeding for mite resistance and for hygienic behavior our only option was to treat with chemical miticide. After much research we decided to go with a 25% thymol paste. Thymol is a natural product extracted from common thyme as well as from a number of other plants; it is a rapidly degrading pesticide and has no withdrawal period for honey. Fall treatment of the hives consisted of two 10-day applications and, as far as we could determine, there were no ill effects on the bees.

World and U.S. honey markets have experienced recent, and significant, upheaval. A federal grand jury in Detroit returned a 19-count indictment against a honey processing firm, charging that it blended corn syrup with honey and sold the mixture as USDA Grade A, pure, product. Moreover honey imports from China to the U.K. were pulled from store shelves when samples tested positive for both streptomycin and chloramphenicol.

Raising bees may have its ups and downs, but we are glad to know where our honey comes from.

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