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Waiting for honey bee drones

It’s been hard to write about beekeeping of late because I’ve been so busy beekeeping. The mating nuc is ready, the swarm traps are hung, the bait hive is assembled, and the honey supers are ready to install. It was a lot of work. But part of the extra work was due to successful overwintering, so how can I complain? I’ve never had so many bees to care for in the spring.

I checked the hives again yesterday and they looked good. I haven’t seen a single drone yet, but that is due to the late, cold, extra-rainy spring we are having. The night air is frigid and frost whitens the ground every morning. The few flowers I have in bloom are stiff and brittle until noon. In a notation I found in last year’s calendar, I mention seeing the first drone on March 24. It’s nearly four weeks later this year, and I still haven’t seen one.

The honey bees are collecting a rainbow of pollen but nectar is still scarce. One hive has started building some bright white bridge comb that signals the beginning of a nectar flow. But if that one hive found a patch, they’re keeping it a secret—I saw no such evidence in the other hives.

Even though the maples have yet to bloom, spring is definitely in the air. Yesterday I saw several species of bumble bee, along with bee flies, mason bees, and tree frogs. One female mason bee was foraging on a dandelion, the rest of the masons were males loitering near the nest box waiting for the females to make an appearance. You could almost hear their collective sigh of impatience.

Rusty

At least someone knows it's spring. Photo by the author.

Comments

Barry Zell
Reply

Please. I haven’t seen a SINGLE honey bee here in Maine this spring (2011) not one! Plenty of bumble bees and more than usual. But not a single honey bee. Not even one on the apple blossoms which are usually alive with the sound of buzzing.

What happened to all the bees?

Thanks,

Barry Zell (Concerned in Maine and for the nation’s bees.)

Rusty
Reply

Barry,

Honey bee diseases and parasites (most introduced since the 1980s) have almost completely decimated wild honey bee colonies. Even most of the “wild” colonies that do exist are just swarms that escaped from managed hives and these only survive a year or two at best. It is a very sad fact that honey bees now have to be managed like other farm animals.

So unless you have a beekeeper operating near you, there is a good chance you will see no honey bees. You are right to be concerned. The days when a wild colony could live in the same hollow tree for twenty years are long gone.

Although honey bees face many problems, the biggest one is the Varroa mite. This mite sucks the honey bee’s “blood” which weakens the bee. However, the mite also carries a number of honey bee viruses, which are the things that cause the colonies to die out. Beekeepers can do various things to reduce the mite populations and keep their hives alive, but honey bees living in the wild suffer from the viral diseases are eventually die.

Have you ever thought of keeping bees? It’s a great way to learn about them and provide pollinators for your apple trees at the same time.

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