Cathedral Bees Update (Spring 2022)

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News from our Beehives on the Roof of Bloedel

by Rob Reid, cathedral beekeeper ministry leader

APRIL 20, 2022

It’s Spring when another season of beekeeping begins. Now is when we decide if our hives are strong or if we need to buy more bees. Did our bees survive the winter?

We always hesitate to open a hive until it gets warmer outside. When it’s below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, the bees cluster together around the queen, generating heat. They do this for months, day and night. Hopefully, they move around as a cluster and access honey that was created from nectar collected when flowers were blooming. We can also supplement with sugar if there is not sufficient honey that can be easily accessed. Sometimes there’s honey but the bees don’t find it. To inspect and also preserve heat, we quickly open the top of the hive. We can add granulated sugar on newspaper on top of the frames and at the same time look for bee activity. After the cold snap we had in January, an inspection revealed no signs of live bees. The bees in both of our hives did not survive so we will be adding new bees in April or May. They probably could not generate enough heat to survive. There are other contributing factors though.

One of the contributing factors affecting all beekeepers is the problem of varroa mites in both commercial hives and those of hobbyists. We knew we had significant numbers of this tiny parasite and therefore treated the hives with a natural substance, oxalic acid. This acid kills the mites but not the bees. We treated our hives a couple of times and found lots of dead varroa on the bottom board of the hive. There is a lot of research on varroa and we’re hoping to have bees that can survive the presence of this parasite on their own. There are some hives with bees that can naturally limit the varroa. Scientists are trying to reproduce those bees and let nature take its course. Wouldn’t it be nice to let natural adaptation fix the problem with minimal intervention from us humans?

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