Mary O’Riordan tries out a new method to eliminate one of the greatest threats to the native Irish bee population — the varroa mite.
I have mentioned winter treatments for the varroa mite several times on this beekeeping article.
There was a time pre-varroa when we put our bees to bed in October and did not worry about them again until March or April.
Back then, removing a crown board would be unheard of during the winter (a crown board on a hive is like the ceiling in a house), and unless they were overturned by a storm, we would not interfere with the hive.
Beekeeping, however, has changed due to this tiny little pest. For some years now, another beekeeper and I work our bees together for a good part of the year — it makes the work easier, particularly the lifting — and what one of us will miss, the other will pick up.
It might be something very small, but it helps to bring everything together at the end of the apiary visit.
I mentioned in the last article that this was the first time we would be using the vaporiser method as a preventative against Varroa mite, so on Saturday the 7th and Sunday the 8th of January, we set off to do our winter treatments.
We were a little bit apprehensive — we had purchased two new vaporisers, (to speed up the job, as the vaporiser has to be left in the hive for 4 minutes) and a 12 volt car battery, which was probably the most expensive items we purchased, along with the charger.
Also in tow was a container of oxalic acid crystals, and foam to seal the entrance and any space at the rear of the hive.
It took the treatment of a few hives to get used to using the new system, but once we got going we treated 10 hives per 45 minutes, and before we left each apiary we had a quick look at the inserts to check the mite drop.
There was a drop of a few mites in some, but it takes a while for the serious drop to occur, so we went back a week later to check.
The drop of dead mites was very heavy and we compared this with the trickle method of Apibioxal in one apiary, as we could not drive there due to the very wet ground and did not want to be carrying a battery.
We also checked those hives for mite drop the week after and again a big drop , especially in the hives with big stocks of bees, which means both methods work, except that the vaporiser method is less invasive.
It makes you wonder how the hives of beekeepers who do not do the winter treatment fare — what would be the state of their stock of bees in the spring?
The winter period for most beekeepers is a time for some reflection — on what has happened during the past year — and what the expectations might be for the coming year.
Reading up on some beekeeping literature, to see what is happening in other parts of the world, is essential. And we also consider whether or not we should we expand, or maybe cut back — and should whether we should take hives of bees to the oil seed rape or not?
Finally, we consider whether or not we should plant some more shrubs or trees that will benefit from pollination for bees and other insects.
On that subject, National Tree week runs from March 5th to March 12th and every year the Tree Council Of Ireland and Coillte offer members of the Federation of Irish Beekeepers trees suitable for bees, which are equally suitable for small gardens.
Beekeeping Associations around the country often organise tree planting events in schools, both primary and secondary, and local association apiaries, and public parks.
The trees on offer are usually Crab Apple, Whitethorn, Rowan and Bird Cherry. The Rowan and Crab apple will provide interest in the autumn with their fruits and lovely leaf colour, as well as blossom in the spring.
The Bird Cherry blossoms in April/May and fruits in July. The Whitethorn is a big favourite among beekeepers, especially if it is in a hedge, as a crop of honey from whitethorn is just beautiful. Visit treecouncil .ie for details of lectures and events.
The Country Cork Association has started its spring series of lectures beginning on Wednesday. March 15 and it will run for six weeks, in room B282, Cork Institute of Technology.
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