Monday, September 19, 2005

Wilde, Now with Menthol

menthol tucked in bottom board slotToday, I cheated.

It's no pleasure to work the bees these days, and they pay and pay for the trouble, too, so I decided not to take Wilde (the weaker colony) apart to put in their menthol, but dodge the bullet by sliding the packet in through the slot below the screened bottom board. I should have checked on honey stores, on brood size, on any number of things, but today there were a couple of hundred dead bees around the last hive I disassembled...and that, my friends, was enough of that.

If you look at the slit near the bottom of the green boxes, you can see a ragged edge of what looks like window screen poking out. It actually *is* window screen, cut into two 6 inch squares and sewn around about a quarter cup of little menthol pellets that look like junior moth balls. The screen keeps the bees from crawling around on the chemical, or chewing it, or otherwise damaging themselves. The white crumbs you see are flakes of menthol that objected to being crammed through a slot. The orange cord is the power for the BeeCool unit, which I opted to leave in place for this hive (let's call it "the experimental method" rather than "fear of carnage," OK?) I left the screen sticking out for ease of retrieval and to limit direct contact between menthol and the materials that make up my roof. You never know.

Beekeepers place menthol in their hives in the autumn in order to (try to) drive tracheal mites out of their colonies. These mites are one of the plagues that has jumped into the honeybee world (along with varroa and American foul brood and so on) and the late summer and beginning of fall is when you must/oughtta/have to take steps to fight them.

You see, the bees are about to enter their winter survival mode, when they all cluster together and the core population of bees that starts the winter season has to survive WAY longer than usual in order to renew the life of the colony in the spring. They live longer, cluster together for warmth, and are therefore more susceptible to spreading and catching diseases and pests and you name it.

For everyone out there who was ever told or believed that sex causes disease, or thought that the latter was the punishment for the former, know this: it's not sex, but closeness, interdependence, and intimacy that makes us vulnerable to each other. And life is not worth living without a bunch of that dangerous stuff. Remember, there are few organisms as blameless as a bee, and few who have faced such a punishing assault on their well being in the past few decades.

And I hate being a punisher. Sometimes I think about how beekeepers play god, and how those worker bees must see me as the Fifth Horseman -- you know, Famine, War, Death, Pestilence, and That Brunette With The Smoker.

So after I slipped in the cheating menthol, and dropped a gallon and a half more syrup into the feeder (while waving at yet another set of roofers across the alley, sigh), I resolved to leave those girls alone until the daily high temps drop into the 60 degree F range (right now they still bounce around in the mid 80s).

And what will I do then, you ask?

Then it is varroa medication time, which will overlap with the nosema treatments, and the measures I will have to take against marauding mice (my husband is not going to like that last part).

And during this time, I will be deciding whether or not to try to build insulating sheaths for the colonies like the Reece brothers do, or to take some other steps to ward off the cold.

And then, perhaps, I will watch to be sure there are enough food stores, and hope for Spring to come soon.

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