About 10 years ago, for whatever reason I wanted to be a Paramedic. Actually it was a firefighter, but since most firefighters now a-days are also paramedics, I thought being in my early 30’s at the time (past the age many departments hire) and also a female, my best route to becoming a firefighter would be to first become a paramedic.
Well, turns out paramedic school is difficult! It amazes me to this day that a paramedic can actually make a decision that could potentially save someone’s life or a mistake that could potentially KILL SOMEONE. Yet, these professionals still earn so little, in spite of their hardships and this immense responsibility! But I digress….
I do remember from my education the very basics of“ABC’s”…”airway”, “breathing” and “circulation”. A paramedic must treat these three conditions in this order before anything else. For example, if a patient is unable to breath, why would you bother starting with her broken ankle? Treat the airway first, make sure it’s clear. Make sure the patient can breathe, process oxygen and has a heartbeat, then treat the broken ankle. If a patents heart isn’t working (circulation) – focus on that first before the scrape on their arm. You get the point. This seems basic, but was drilled into our heads - over and over and over again lest we forget in a stressful situation. But why am I telling you about paramedics training in a bee blog?
Beekeepers, by nature want to be perfect. Many of us enter this venture with the sole intent of helping the honey bee. We love our bees and want the absolute best for them. We read journals, attend classes and talk with other beekeepers, to learn of “sins” committed by others and resolve not to repeat them. We pass judgment on them and oversimplify the situations, and when it comes to applying our resolutions, sometimes we often get paralysis by analysis and do nothing.
One glaring example comes to mind. We all know honey is the absolute best food for a honey bee. We read about the dangers of malnutrition and resolve “I will only feed my bees honey!” Some of us will even conclude about another beekeeper, that the reason their bees starved was because they took too much honey off and didn’t leave enough for the bees. I've done it myself in the past.
Then along comes application. What if you had a banner honey flow in the Spring? The flow was so intense you actually had to take honey off in order to give your bees built out comb so the queen had room to lay and expand the brood nest. Or, to prevent swarming you split the heck out of your bees and made one hive into four. Then follows a dry summer and the flowers no longer produce nectar. Those bees eat through their reserves (yes they can do this in the summer dearth) but you think it’s ok because flowers are still blooming while your bees are literally starving before your very eyes. Really at this time you should be assessing nectar and pollen on the frames and possibly concluding to feed pollen substitute and/or syrup. After all winter is right around the corner in the bee world! These bees are making the bees that will get you through the winter, but remember….you vowed to only feed your bees honey. That dry summer turns into a meager late summer honey flow. One hive builds a surplus, but the rest of your hives are light. You can take the surplus from that one hive and transfer it to another hive, but the remaining 2 are still light. They will starve over the winter and some may say “well that’s survival of the fittest. I’m not raising lazy bees!” Or you can distribute the surplus evenly to all 4, equalize and hope for the best when actually now NONE of them have enough food!
My problem with this scenario is we forget that the hive genetics is dictated by the queen. Why wouldn’t you simply feed the heck out of your lighter hives (bees are resources for the future) and resolve to exchange the survivors in the spring with daughters of the hive that had a banner honey crop? It could be high fructose corn syrup, beet sugar, cane sugar or even the expensive winter patties sold by bee suppliers…anything to get them through the winter. If I’m starving on a deserted island, rest assured I will eat the box of Twinkie’s air dropped to me even though they are disgusting and I know they are not nutritionally best for me. Sure as heck beats starving to death!
Personally I’ve had stellar success with simply dumping dry sugar over newspaper placed directly on the top of frames. I’m lazy that way. I’ve since moved to the Megabee winter patties figuring scientists in a lab know more about the bee metabolism than I do. All my hives are overwintered with a mountain camp top to ensure room to place emergency food. Either way those hives may be re-queened with better genetics when the drones start to fly.
We also forget that perhaps it wasn’t genetics that led to light hives. That hive that made the surplus honey could have just been robbing reserves from the other hives. It could be that our area was so saturated with bee competition in declining forage areas with farming and or urbanization that there simply wasn’t enough for them to eat! My point is this is a complicated subject that should not be oversimplified at the expense of our bees and by the simple resolve that honey is the best food. Honey is the best food, but no food is the worst.
Another example is checking on them in the winter time. We are all taught in that beginning beekeeping class to only check on your bees on a sunny 60 degree day. Bull. If you wait for that day your bees may starve in our northern climate. Placement of food is as important as amount of food. If that cluster is at the top and it is cold, they may not move side to side. I will open hives in 30 degree weather. I’m not rooting around in there, I’m not taking my time, it’s a quick in and out. Have your patties ready, flip the lid, check food. If needed place patties over the cluster, close her up and you are done! No smoke and no veil. Honestly I don’t like these inspections because I friggin hate being cold and many times the snow is slushy, the Jeep got stuck and now I have to wade through it with all my supplies… but there is nothing worse than having a hive starve to death knowing it is sooooo preventable…and sooooo MY FAULT! I’ve had it happen to me, I’m not innocent and it will happen again, but it sure as heck now isn’t for lack of trying to prevent it.
I can go on and on about different situation…grinding your own powdered sugar for mite checks vs. using the store bought stuff because corn starch is bad for bees…cane sugar vs. beet sugar. All right answers, and wrong ones if you draw hard lines based on them. Nature doesn't follow hard lines, especially the ones we tend to draw.
Try and do the best for your bees, but don’t get so caught up in being perfect that you forget to be successful. Don't lose lose site of the bigger picture and treat the wrong things or worse yet, not act at all.
Remember those ABCs. Remember that giving your bees the best chance to survive might mean not being perfect.
My thoughts on mite treatments in relation to ABC’s to follow…..