Yesterday, I went through my two top bars and opened the broodnest with a couple of empty bars. We've had a warm spring, and the bees are building up fast. There were a few bees with deformed wing early when brooding up first started, but overall, they look really good. I pulled a couple of old combs which still had foundation in them from when I first installed a nuc in 2010 . I also pulled a complete comb of capped drone brood.
So I closed them up and then sat down with a couple of sharp tools and that drone comb in the sun. I opened every one of the cells and pulled the brood. Tons of mites. Tons. One thing that saddened me was how easy it is to miss them. The brood is easily destroyed, and it's white ooze will easily disguise a mite and you'll miss it. Another thing that I saw for the first time were white immature mites. In the bright sun, I saw a lot of them, and I had never noticed them before. pulling drones during an inspection and without really bright light, you'd never see them and count one adult mite, and miss the several others. Bottom line: Even if you're pulling drone brood, chances are you're not seeing a lot of the mites that are actually there.
This is a hive that I hit with oxalic vapor in the fall. It wintered well, and appears to be booming now. But there they are: mites everywhere.
So I sat there, covered in mite-ridden drone goo, with all the conflicting varroa information swirling around in my head. Decades into having mites in North America, and most of us still aren't even sure of how long an adult mite lives. Every expert tells a different story and has different advice on what to do. Even our "knowledge" of bee behavior varies so much from one person to the next. What do we actually know collectively? Anything? How much is universally agreed upon?
So sitting there, I knew one thing: I don't know anything for sure, other than the fact that I have lots of bees, and I have lots of mites. I don't know if anything I've done over the last couple of seasons has done a bit of good. And then, in that mite-induced, near-insantity a voice spoke in my head.
"They know what they're doing", it said.
The bees know what they're doing. And with all the lack of clear understanding, and the impossibility of finding it in the collective wisdom of other beekeepers, I think it might be time for my beekeeping activities to turn as hard as they can in the direction of getting out of the bees' way.
My original hive is now in its third season. My second is in its second. I have lang-based swarm traps out. I think I might just expand as much as I can this season. I have gear for three more top bar hives, six full 8-frame langstroth hives and ten 5 frame nucs. That would be 21 colonies of different sizes. All my brood frames are 1 1/4", and I haven't put in any foundation yet.
I might just hang up my guns on this mite thing and just keep hunting bees with swarm traps and any cut-outs that come my way. Keep bringing in local bees and breed from whatever lives. No small-cell foundation, no brood trapping and scratching, no organic acids, or essential oils, no sticky boards or sugar dusting, no drizzling, or fuming or gassing or rolling. Maybe all the bees will die, but I guarantee that I'll save the cost of nucs in the labor time I'll save - particularly in the area of reading about how to deal with mites.
I've been paying more attention to mites than bees and I'm tired of it.
Goodbye, cruel mite-world!!!