Week 17: Sept 25, 2018

Sweet Surprises

For the past five years, we have been attempting to keep bees. Just when we feel like we have them figured out, we are reminded that we do not. Some summers the bees are content and build perfect frames of honey. Other summers, they swarm every few days and the whole farm crew is on their toes watching for the bees leaving to find a new home.

This past winter we lost all ten of our hives. We haven’t had 100% loss since our first year when we only had one hive on the farm. Not so many years ago winter survival of honeybee colonies was not a major problem in our area. Experts are reeling to determine exactly why so many colonies are dying even when they have stores of honey left to eat. Most scientific articles point to two things and assume they work with each other to create the problem. The first is pesticide chemicals on our landscape and the second is a tiny beetle, called the viroa mite that parasitizes the weakened bees.

We originally purchased the hives with the intent of achieving better pollination in our vegetable crops. This is an important and often overlooked step in the growing process. We figured that cucumbers, squash and other cucurbits would be the primary attractant for our bees. That first growing season, we planted cukes right next to the hives. Much to our surprise, we never really saw our honeybees in these plants. Only native bumblebees and other pollinating insects. The same went for most of our varieties that require insect pollination. Matter of fact, the bumblebees built the underground nests right in our high tunnel two seasons ago and caused quite a commotion every time we came close to stepping on them.

What we’ve come to learn is that our non-native honeybees are absolutely beneficial for fruit and nut trees, but not so much for a vegetable garden. What is important is maintaining a safe place for the native pollinators. Eliminating chemicals that cause weakened immune systems in insects and reducing the urge to mow every square inch of our property. Perhaps even go so far as to plant some wildflowers or shrubbery for pollinator habitat.

With sticky fingers,

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