A Difficult Decision.
I’ve been rescuing animals since my childhood on the farm and I hate it when they don’t surive. Most often now neighbours bring me sick bumble bees but I’ve had birds, hedgehogs, hares and rats over the last 29 years. Alice the small brown and white rat was the main success story and she lived happily with me for a couple of years till the end of her life. Alice was wandering the streets of Elgin confused and malnourished when she was discovered by a rabbit rescuer. Caraline also rescued guinea pigs but drew the line at rats and brought Alice to me. As soon as I clapped eyes on the skinny wee fragile animal I couldn’t refuse to take her in.
But, I digress and must tell you about my sick bees. I’ve written previously about the colony that has had Chronic Bee Paralysis Virus (CBPV) for 2 years. One of my mentors was with me when I first noticed bees tumbling out of the front entrance acting like they had been poisoned. Lab tests proved negative to poisoning and I realised that the bees had CBPV. They carried on to survive over 2 winters but now the are not building up but dwindling. In fact, they also have Deformed Wing Virus (DWV) though sugar roll tests shows low varroa burden. I normally only use organic acids but last autumn used Apivar (Amitraz), then oxalic acid sublimation in December.
The colony is now dwindling rapidly and sick bees are falling off the combs and dying on the floor. The brood is chilling and dying because they don’t have enough healthy nurse bees to care for them. Chalk Brood (Ascosphaera Apis) is flourishing and the colony will slowly die. The brood frames are normal otherwise and a full disease inspection shows no other disorder.
Recent UK by Budge et al on CBPV can be viewed below.
What to do With a Sick Colony?
I could leave this sick colony to dwindle further and die over time but is this good management? For a start, the bees are suffering and they also might infect my healthy colonies. They might leave their hive and move in next door.
I decide that the time is right to destroy the colony but I am sorry because the queen is laying vigorously and looks healthy. I discuss the situation with a mentor who suggests that I save the queen and make up a nuc. This is what I do and I place the queen on a healthy frame of sealed brood in a 5-framed nucleus box with stores, another healthy brood frame and empty drawn combs.
The foragers are vigorously flying to dandelions and bringing in huge pollen loads and I want them to return to the queen in the nuc so I remove the parent hive 20 feet away and place the nuc on its site.
Preparing to Euthanase the Colony.
I find a solid floor and place an old towel on it before selecting all the remaining brood frames that will go into the brood box on the new solid floor. The remaining bees are now in this box and the healthy flyers return to the parent hive. I shut up the entrance when I see no activity at the entrance and I pour in a cup of petrol through the hole in the crown board. The fumes quickly kill the bees. I replace the roof and hear a roar (like the noise the colony makes after sublimating with oxalic acid). It lasts no longer than a few seconds fortunately.
Cynthia my bee-buddy helps me and provides moral support. It’s not something either of us has done before. She drops by after inspecting bees at the nearby distillery and we have a cup of tea (socially distancing) after the deed is done.
Within the hour I have cleaned up the dead bees wrapping them in the towel and double bagging the combs and bees. I’m surprised how quickly the smell of petrol dissipates and it’s gone by the time I come to blow-torch the woodwork.
I won’t know for a few weeks if this has been successful in reducing infected bee numbers and allowing colony build up again, but yesterday there were no dead bees on the nuc floor, and the little 5-frames super on the brood box was full of bees.
Wild Bee Colony.
Another disappointment this week was discovering the wild bee colony inactive on a very warm still day of around 18 degrees Centigrade. I was hoping to see loads of pollen going in but there were only a few bees flying in and out. As on the last visit, the bees were defensive. This wild bee story can be found in Bee Culture magazine, April.
The Good News.
It was really warm here for a few days and so I got out the solar wax extractor. I had to brush off a couple of years’ worth of dust first. I store up old frames and burr comb in airtight containers till I have enough to process. Waiting for hot weather is the main constraint here in the Highlands.
I’ve used my friend Kate Atchley’s nifty tip of lining a loaf tin to collect melted wax.
I was sitting in the garden near this plant and noticed the smallest of bees with pollen baskets almost larger than itself. This was one of the highlights of my week. So, it wasn’t all gloom and doom. Scout bees are sniffing round one my 5 bait hives so next week promises to be interesting.