September 2018 - What’s Going on with our Bees?

Most of us in the northern half of the state have enjoyed extraordinary nectar flows this year, with some record-breaking honey crops. The black locust flows were very strong and subsequent spring wildflower and tree nectars followed suit. The icing on the cake was that mite counts were low as well. The result? Some very happy, very healthy bees….

But before you decide that your bees are in perfect shape and ready for winter, the dearth that followed our spring flows was, in at least some areas, pretty severe. Hives in the “lowlands” experienced very little dearth, continuing with light flows over much of the summer. However, apiaries in more upland ecologies – Boonton Township, for instance – were pretty dry for a good bit of July and all of August, and needed supplemental feeding. Some colonies had gone through all their spring stores and were on the verge of starvation. And I noticed mite levels creeping up so I followed my normal protocol and treated all my colonies in July and early August, which is when mite populations peak. I plan to continue alcohol washes and will treat again in mid-September to avoid the possibility of fall “mite bombs” and their tragic outcome.

I’ve received several concerned calls from club members thinking their bees may have been hit by pesticides. They observed hundreds of dead bees lying in front of one of their hives. A few questions and detective work revealed the truth: the bees had likely been robbed and were starving. How to tell the difference between starvation and pesticide poisoning?

  • Not all colonies in the apiary are affected.

  • No food at all in the hive.

  • If robbing occurred, you’ll see honey cells with ragged edges that have been torn open by robbers. This is absent if the bees simply ran out of food.

  • Queen has shut down and is not laying.

  • Brood is absent. The bees have cannibalized it because they do not have the resources to feed brood. Any brood remaining may look diseased due to lack of care.

  • Population will be greatly reduced.

On a brighter note, we’ve had so much rain and heat this summer that I think it very likely we will have a nice fall flow, so feed your bees if they need feeding, treat for mites, take the feeders off and get those honey supers back on there!

Bee well, all!

-Landi Simone