When we arrived back to school this fall the bees were on the defensive. We went into the hive to check the honey stocks and brood production, but the bees were very grumpy and there were not as many full frames of honey as we expected.
It wasn’t evident why they were defensive so we called in a local honey bee expert, permaculturalist, and friend, Amy Moyle, to help us figure out what was going on. Amy was immediately concerned about their behavior and suspected that something had been antagonizing the hive – possibly a skunk. We decided to deter any bee-eating predators by setting out a nail board (a board at the base of the hive with tiny nails in it.) An entrance reducer in the front limits the amount of space for bees to enter the hive and this allows the guard bees more thorough surveillance of the hive. This had been knocked out of place – evidence mounting for the skunk suspect!
After several weeks of working with the bees and feeding them Honey B Healthy (a feeding stimulant with extracts of lemon grass and other essential oils to stimulate bees immune systems, prevent mold and fungus, and to calm bees) they did indeed calm down and we were able to get into the brood box. The queen had been laying which was a good sign and we did a sugar shake to check for Varroa mites. We found more mites than we wanted to, and because they can weaken and even destroy a hive if left unchecked, Amy suggested we treat with Apigaurd (a natural treatment with thymol from thyme plants.)
So, things are looking up for our Italian Hygienic Honey Bees. The hive is robust, the bees are much calmer and happier, we have treated for pests, and there has been no sign of the skunk for at least a month now.
Unfortunately, we probably won’t harvest honey this fall, but it’s more important to care for the health of the bees. We look forward to studying them in Micro-economy on Fridays with Middle School and for the kids to get some hands on experience working in the hive! Our fuzzy flying friends increase yields in the garden and are a vital part of our ecosystem. We’re happy to be doing our part to help them as they help us.