Keeping Your Bees Alive

In The Wars

red blood cells
red blood cells

I’ve been in the wars lately, which is why I haven’t written much on here. Plus, of course, it becomes increasingly difficult to find new ways to say things as each season passes. As we enter spring, it’s time to talk about avoiding starvation, first inspections, checking for disease, blah blah blah. I’m a world-class procrastinator; if it was an Olympic sport, I’d be on the podium every time. There are always exciting things to say, to read about and to do…I just need to kick myself up the derriere and get on with it.

What a pain

Before bees, I’m going to lay out my excuses for not writing sooner. It’s always best to get those in first, in my experience. I have been struggling with chest and back pains for over two years, and they got worse and harder to ignore. I thought it might be my gall bladder. Then I got a genuinely awful cough which lasted over three weeks, the kind that keeps you up half the night. I still have it six weeks later, but it’s only occasional and mild. The COVID test was negative.

One night I was whisked to hospital in an ambulance and checked out for heart problems, followed by a scan for a suspected pulmonary embolism. That was negative, but they found “small airways thickening and ground glass changes” in my lungs and referred me to a lung clinic. I’m still waiting for that; apparently COVID has meant that they are rather busy.

Iron man

I have been getting my blood tested every so often over the last two years to figure out why a naturally healthy walrus is beginning to fall apart. It turns out that I have a weird iron-related disorder called haemochromatosis. It’s a bit like the opposite of anaemia; I actually store too much iron and can’t get rid of it. It’s not uncommon amongst Celts, so I should have probably heard of it before with a name like Donohoe. I also found out that I have high cholesterol and a fatty liver. Great!

The rescue plan is in place. I’m dieting to get my weight down to sealion proportions and BMI to 25 (from 30). I’m going to have blood taken from me regularly to reduce the iron overload. The lung thing will be addressed in due course. I also found that ‘proton pump inhibitors’ (Lansoprazole) helped enormously with my pains. Could it be that much of my chest/back pain was, in fact, heartburn? That’s embarrassing. No more red meat for me and cheese is a rare and special treat due to the iron & cholesterol issues. Having just marked 15 years of sobriety I thought I’d be less knackered than this, but if I’d carried on drinking I wouldn’t be here at all.

On top of that, when I had my first COVID shot, I was ill with flu-like symptoms for two to three days! Worth it, I’m sure, but I’m getting bored of being sick, thank you very much.

Low winter losses so far…

Phew. What about my bees, then? I’m one of those who thinks that if you feed bees properly in the autumn, they shouldn’t need anything in the spring. Typically my production hives are fine, but about a third of my nucs need fondant. This has proved to be the case this spring, although I gave a couple of bigger hives some fondant too, as they seemed light. So far, I’ve suffered the loss of one colony from forty, which happened back in November. I also have one tiny pathetic looking colony, which will probably not be worth saving. The death in November seems to have been varroa/virus related. My fault for treating too late.

adding fondant to a nuc
adding fondant to a nuc

Preparation is everything

I made a load of new floors this winter and will put them into service this month. Changing floors is one of my spring rituals. I’ve also been laying some material down underneath my hives to keep the grass and weeds at bay. I have new stands too. It’s great to be doing bee stuff again. The latest has been to make some brood frames with queen cages in them. These will go into hives on the nectar flow in May. The idea is that the bees draw out the wax foundation and the cage becomes embedded within. I can then conduct my experiment in which queens are held in the cages for a couple of weeks in July, followed by an oxalic acid mite treatment a week later.

cage for holding queen
cage for holding queen

My next task is to add wax into my mini-plus mating nuc frames and do some tidying up of bee sheds. I have made my plans for the season, plans which will almost certainly go wrong. I wonder what unexpected calamities await. There’s bound to be something, but if I still have bees at the end of it and I get some honey, I’ll be content. The pressure is on this season because I have to supply honey for my daughter’s wedding in August and the farm shop. Wouldn’t it be great to have honey in May and again in July? Sounds like a fairy tale.

4 replies »

  1. Sorry to hear about the iron thing. So you’re on a course of leeches… You’ll be using a skep next.

    The queens-in-cages thing makes us non-treaters go “hmmm” because we get brood breaks (vs varroa) naturally, simply by not feeding during dearths. It will be fascinating to see if your technique is better / worse / about the same. Hope it works – one more tool in the kit!

    • Thanks Paul. I’m not doing anything too radical like not treating! They are getting zapped with oxalic acid when bloodless, although I’ll do mite washes to make sure they need it & to record the efficacy. Got to admit, sticking in a couple of plastic amitraz strips is way easier, but I’m trying to be less reliant on that – partly because eventually resistance developes, and partly because it’s probably the “right thing to do.” Who knows, skeps and sun hives adorned with crystals beckon. LOL

  2. Sorry to hear about your health problems. Not a nice thing to find out but at least you know more about what’s going on now and have a plan in place.

    Your winter survival rate is great, congrats! 39 colonies – swarm season will be interesting!

    • Thanks Emily. I reckon there’s plenty of time for another loss or two! I’m trying to raise queens from less swarmy stock but they don’t always behave 😀

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