Washington State Beekeepers Association

Keeping the Bee in Business

August 2019 President’s Message

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My wife and I began keeping bees 8 years ago and for the first 4 years, we lost nearly every hive over the winter. We worked hard each year to make sure that the bees had the best opportunity to survive winter, but each spring, nearly all of our hives died. Upon examining our dead hives I saw hat we had plenty of honey in the hives and a large cluster of dead bees in a ball somewhere in the hive. It looked like they never moved to food that was just inches away. We live at the end of Clear Lake near Spokane and in the winter we get a lot of cold northerly wind. Was it that the hives were simply too cold for the bees to break cluster and move to food?

During that same time, our club promoted essential oils as the best means to control disease without the use of chemicals, but our varroa counts were still quite high.

I was tired of losing most or all of my hives each winter so, as a scientist, I put two and two together and came up with a plan. I decided that we were going to start treating our hives with Oxalic acid vapor to control varroa and we were going to start moving the hives from their summer locations to a protected winter location. That year, we did our first Oxalic acid treatment in February, followed by a three week treatment series in August after we pulled supers, & then one in late October. I also moved the hives in October from their exposed summer position to the south side of my garage where they would be protected & would get warmed by the sun over winter.

With these 2 simple changes, our hive losses dropped from 90% to 10%. Since then, my hives come out of winter very strong and I’ve had to split each one to prevent swarming.

Why do I tell you this? Because I think we are teaching our new beekeepers wrong. My personal observation is that we get lots of people taking beekeeping classes, who then go out and get bees and equipment, only to have them die the first or, if lucky, the second winter. After that they either lose interest or don’t want to continue spending money on hives that don’t survive.

My suggestion to anyone wanting to keep bees is to take the WASBA Beginning Beekeeping class. They should be told up front that most people who begin the hobby drop out because it is hard work to keep bees alive and it’s takes several years of experience before they become proficient enough to minimize hive loses. They should also be highly encouraged to work with an experienced mentor beekeeper who can show them the ropes and hopefully prevent some of their losses. And by all means, continue with their education, including the Apprentice class after their first year beekeeping. My hope for WASBA is that we continue to refine our curriculum in order to create a better beekeeping experience for people entering the hobby.

I would also advocate for never bringing bee packages into your geographic region as well as never treating your bees for varroa but that will be left for our next newsletter.

Cheers, Kevin