Wingless workers were walking willingly west. This alliterative observation of mine prompted me to treat the hive for varroa, as dozens of wingless bees means a heavy mite infestation.
I had D as helper, as well as a student who chose bees for his nature study project.
On opening the hive, the top box seemed a little light on bees, but very heave on honey. I found a caterpillar about 3 mm long, up in the top box – possibly a wax moth, and another sign my poor hive has trouble.
The lower box was fairly full of bees, and the frames I pulled had a mixture of honey (a nice semicircle), pollen, and grubs/capped pupae. There were some bees which seem to have died before chewing their way out of their cells, or were resting very very quietly. I was able to spot quite a few mites on bees, and many, many bees missing wings – dozens. This is a very bad sign, very bad indeed. The mites are so small, and the bees so many, that being able to see any indicates a huge infestation. I am feeling quite emotional about it all – anger at those filthy blood sucking disease carrying good-for-nothing parasites, and sadness for my girls.
I could not find the queen, but seeing a number of 3-4 day old grubs lets me know she is OK.
I put the queen excluder on, with some absorbent pads and butyric acid (44%, 100ml). I decided to put this in the middle of the hive this time, to get better coverage – so the excluder went between the two hive boxes. The outside temperature was about 16˚C, but the hive was in sunlight, so the hive was nice and warm. The girls were very passive, and didn’t mind me delving too much. There were no drones – must have been evicted for the winter.
Unfortunately, as I was delivering a biology lesson on the life-cycle of bees to my student, my gardening neighbour overheard, and so has discovered a bee hive just over the fence from his house. I had to be rather tactful and encouraging, as he was a little fearful – a pottle of honey in the letter box may be another encouraging effort on my part. I value good neighbours.
The treatment was left in for 2 days, instead of just one. I also used a sticky board, to gauge the effectiveness of the treatment.
In removing the treatment today, my helper was E, who is desperately trying to overcome her fear of bees. She did a good job, and I am mightily proud of her.
The sticky board was covered in mites, hundreds of them. It was with a sick feeling that I examined it, feeling like a neglectful parent – I do not yet rank as a bee-keeper, just a bee-haver. The hive was in a dire way, and would not have lasted the winter like that. I have decided to break with my organic resolution and buy some bayverol strips, for a further treatment. I just need to get them healthy before the queen stops laying.